What the Ben & Jerry’s Decision Reveals About Israel

Backlash to the ice-cream maker’s decision to distinguish between Israel and the territories it occupies has shown that, for many Israelis, the distinction no longer exists.


Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty

Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, JULY 23, 2021

No company does progressive politics quite like Ben & Jerry’s. The Vermont-based ice-cream maker has a reputation for corporate activism, owing to its support for a wide array of left-wing causes, including marriage equality, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter. But when the company announced this week that it will no longer sell its products in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, it faced an outcome that every ice-cream maker fears most: a meltdown.

The matter of Israel’s settlements, which the international community regards as illegal under international law but which the Trump administration said will need to be resolved through a political and not a judicial process, has long been a thorny issue in Israel. (The Biden administration has yet to articulate its own policy on this.) When it comes to ice cream, though, the country’s notoriously fractious political sphere is virtually unanimous. Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said that Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as an “anti-Israel ice cream.” His centrist coalition partner, Yair Lapid, called the move a “shameful surrender to anti-Semitism.” Israeli President Isaac Herzog of the center-left, who once committed to removing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, called Ben & Jerry’s decision to shun them “a new kind of terrorism.” The newly minted opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested that Israelis should boycott the brand. One centrist cabinet minister dutifully posted a TikTok of herself chucking a pint of what looked like Dulce de Leche into the trash.

That an ice-cream maker could cause such an uproar at the highest levels of Israeli politics says a lot about how sensitive Israel is to the very notion of boycotts against it—even those that, like Ben & Jerry’s, are limited in scope. More fundamentally, the dustup reveals a growing divergence between how the world sees Israel and how the country sees itself. While the international community, including the United States, continues to distinguish between Israel and the territories it occupies, the reaction to the Ben & Jerry’s decision has shown that, as far as many Israeli politicians are concerned, that distinction no longer exists.

On its face, Ben & Jerry’s move to end its business in the occupied territories, which the company described as being inconsistent with its values, poses an arguably negligible problem for Israel from a practical standpoint—one that would affect, at most, the roughly 6 percent of the population living in one of the country’s sprawling settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both of which have been under Israeli control since 1967. Ben & Jerry’s has said that it will continue to sell its products in Israel itself. Both Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, declined to comment further, but the implications of the move are clear: While Israeli citizens living in settlements such as Ariel and ​​Ma’ale Adumim may no longer be able to buy Chunky Monkey in their local supermarket, they can find it nearby. (The same cannot be said for Palestinians in the West Bank, who are not afforded the same right to freedom of movement.)

In other words, Ben & Jerry’s decision “has no material impact on Israel whatsoever,” Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israel-based pollster and political strategist, told me. But it does have a political one—and, to the Israelis who feel the need to defend their sovereignty, an existential one. By ending its business in the occupied territories, the company has effectively refused to profit from or legitimize the status quo in the region, a status quo that Israel is deeply invested in protecting. It has also made clear that it will recognize Israel only within its democratic borders. “It’s all symbolic,” Scheindlin said, “but symbolism is huge.”

Why does Israel care about what an American ice-cream brand thinks of its policies? When I put this question to Scheindlin, she told me that for many Israelis, criticism of Israeli policy is often conflated with an existential threat to Israel itself. To hear many Israeli politicians tell it, “criticism from abroad of our policies is anti-Israel, it’s anti-Zionist, and it’s anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic,” Scheindlin said. “And that’s really the narrative that we’ve been hearing.” There is also the fear that what started with Ben & Jerry’s might not end there; once one company boycotts Israeli settlements, what’s to stop others from joining it?

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Israeli PM vows to ‘act aggressively’ over Ben & Jerry’s ban


Trucks are parked at the Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory in the Be’er Tuvia Industrial area, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Associated Press, July 20, 2021

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the head of Unilever on Tuesday that Israel will “act aggressively” against Ben & Jerry’s over the subsidiary’s decision to stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem.

British consumer goods conglomerate Unilever acquired the Vermont-based ice cream company in 2000. Ben & Jerry’s said in a statement on Monday that it had informed its longstanding licensee — responsible for manufacturing and distributing the ice cream in Israel — that it will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of 2022.

Bennett’s office said in a statement that he spoke with Unilever CEO Alan Jope about what he called Ben & Jerry’s “clearly anti-Israel step,” adding that the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise, and that it will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens.”

The announcement was one of the highest-profile company rebukes of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Most of the international community considers these settlements illegal under international law and an impediment to peace with the Palestinians.

Approximately 700,000 Israelis now live in settlements, around 500,000 in the occupied West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem. Israel considers the entirety of Jerusalem its capital, while the Palestinians seek it as capital of a future state.

Ben & Jerry’s said in its announcement that the sale of its ice cream in territories sought by the Palestinians for an independent state was “inconsistent with our values.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry criticized the decision on Monday as “a surrender to ongoing and aggressive pressure from extreme anti-Israel groups” and said the company was cooperating with “economic terrorism.”

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A Nightmare of Terror Across the Landscape of Palestine

As Israeli lynch mobs roam the streets attacking Palestinians, and as Israeli war planes drop bombs on Gaza, it’s essential to understand how we arrived at this moment.


Israeli forces respond to a Palestinian man protesting in Jerusalem by placing him in a choke hold. (Photo by Menahem Kahana / AFP via Getty Images)

Yousef Munayyer, The Nation, 5/13/21

I have been trying to think of a moment since 1948 when so broad a range of Palestinians have been exposed to as great a level of Israeli violence as they have been these last few days—and I don’t think I can.

In towns throughout Israel, Palestinians have been beaten and terrorized by rampaging mobs; one man was dragged from his car and brutalized in what many are describing as a lynching. In the West Bank, Palestinians have been shot and killed in raids by the Israeli military. In Jerusalem, Palestinian families, facing the ongoing threat of expulsion, have been harassed by settlers and military alike. And across Gaza, Israeli war planes have dropped bomb after bomb, destroying entire apartment buildings. Many have died, many more have been injured. If they manage to survive, they will witness their society shattered when the smoke clears.

The origins of this moment are as obvious as they are painful, but they bear explaining and re-explaining for a world that too often fails—in fact, refuses—to see the true terms of Palestinian suffering.

To understand how we’ve arrived at this moment, it is essential to start with the story of Sheikh Jarrah. That small Jerusalem enclave, from which several Palestinian families have been under threat of expulsion, is perhaps, the most immediate proximate cause of this latest crisis. It is also just the latest targeted dispossession of Palestinians by Israel, which has been part of a more than 70–year process.

Since occupying the West Bank in 1967, the Israeli government has pursued various policies aimed at demographically engineering the city of Jerusalem—again, all with an eye toward ensuring its perpetual dominance over the city. Among such policies are the building of illegal settlements around the city to cut it off from the rest of the Palestinian population in the West Bank; the restriction of movement to deny Palestinians access to and within the municipality itself; the revocation of Palestinian residency status, which is tantamount to expulsion; and the demolition of Palestinian homes. The Israelis also expel Palestinians from their homes, as we are witnessing in Sheikh Jarrah, so that they can be handed to Israeli settlers.

Such policies have created a uniquely potent set of threats, humiliations, and injustices targeting Palestinians in Jerusalem. Yet what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is not just about Jerusalem but is also reflective of the entire Palestinian experience. Since the start of Zionist settler colonialism in Palestine, the aim has been to slowly and steadily expand control over the territory, pushing the indigenous population out in a continual process of replacement. The single biggest episode of this was the Nakba of 1948, during which Jewish militias and then the state of Israel depopulated hundreds of towns and villages, made nearly two-thirds of the Palestinian Arab population refugees, and subsequently denied their return, first by military force and then by force of law. But the process did not stop there. In the decades since, the settler colonial process has moved forward in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza through the building of settlements, land theft, and brute military force.

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Sheikh Jarrah Explained

The past and present of East Jerusalem

Middle East Eye explains the history of Israel’s push to evict Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem community

Mustafa Abu Sneineh, Middle East Eye, 6 May 2021

Sheikh Jarrah, the Palestinian neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem facing imminent Israeli eviction, was once a breezy orchard lying less than a kilometre north of the ancient walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

In the early 20th century, wealthy Palestinian families moved to build modern houses in the area, escaping the narrow streets and the hustle and bustle of their air-tight homes in the Old City.

The neighbourhood’s name refers to the personal physician of the Islamic general Saladin, who is believed to have settled there when Muslim armies captured the city from Christian crusaders in 1187.

Refugees from Palestine 1948

In 1956, 28 Palestinian families settled in the neighbourhood. Those families were part of a wider population of 750,000 forcibly expelled by Zionist militias during the 1948 war – known to Palestinians as the Nakba, or “catastrophe” – from the Arab towns and cities that became Israel.

East Jerusalem was administered by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which governed the West Bank. Jordan had built houses for the 28 Palestinian families in 1956 with the approval of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

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Human Rights Watch Documents Israeli Apartheid

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), April 27, 2021

For the past week, the world watched as Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Over 1500 Palestinians, mostly children, are facing threats of forced displacement and home demolitions by Israeli authorities. For nearly 75 years, this has been the devastating reality for many Palestinians – exile, intimidation, occupation, and apartheid. The human rights abuses that Palestinians have faced at the hands of Israel are finally attracting more attention. While. the United Nations has repeatedly pointed out violations of international law by Israel, While the United Nations has repeatedly pointed out violations of international law by Israel, the international consensus has always been to ignore the violations– but the world can no longer ignore what is happening.

Yesterday, in a historic move, Human Rights Watch came out with a 213-page report that documents the human rights abuses Israel inflicts on Palestinians and recognizes their actions as crimes of apartheid. While Palestinians and many others who support them have known this for years, this is a bold move that pushes the plight of the Palestinian people into the spotlight with the hope that Israel will be held accountable for these crimes.

The report states: “Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

Palestinians have suffered under occupation and crimes of apartheid for over half a century. Recognizing the human rights abuses inflicted by Israel such as checkpoints; annexation; lack of medical care, access to clean water; and the deliberate, imposing apartheid wall, is essential in the pursuit for justice.

In recent months, mounting pressure from the American people and international community has pushed US lawmakers into action. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) recently introduced H.R.2590, the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act. This historic bill would hold Israel accountable for its human rights abuses of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and withhold sending our tax dollars to fund these atrocities. Over a dozen members of Congress co-sponsored this resolution, and ADC- along with dozens of Palestinian and human rights organizations – is proud to have signed on as an endorsing organization.

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US congresswoman denounces ‘disturbing’ arrests of Palestinian children

Betty McCollum vows to push that US military aid to Israel is not ‘used in any way that violates the rights of any Palestinian’


B’Tselem says Israeli forces arrested five Palestinian children in the West Bank on Wednesday (B’Tselem)

Ali Harb, Middle East Eye, 11 March 2021

US Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a Democrat who has led efforts in Congress to hold Israel accountable for human rights abuses against Palestinians, denounced the arrest of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. 

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem had reported that five Palestinians aged 8 to 12 had been detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank near the settlement of Havat Maon south of Hebron for picking wild vegetables. 

The group shared video footage of Israeli troops in combat gear pushing visibly terrified Palestinian children into military vehicles. 

At one point, an older child tried to rescue another minor who was being escorted by a soldier only to be yanked away by another officer.

“Seeing the images of heavily armed Israeli soldiers manhandling and detaining these five preteen Palestinian children is extremely disturbing,” McCollum told MEE in an email. 

“Using Israeli soldiers to capture little boys who were reportedly ‘gathering wild vegetables’ in occupied Palestinian land is wrong.”

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Welcome to the 12th Annual Open Shuhada Street Campaign

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On this page, you will find information about the Open Shuhada Street campaign in 2021. Please go to our calendar page for events.

Join the international campaign led by local Palestinian volunteers to call for an end to the restrictions in the city of Hebron — call for the reopening of Hebron’s main street, an end to the segregation in Hebron, an end to the human rights violations, and an end to the Israeli occupation.

Please follow the campaign on Youth Against Settlements’ Facebook and Twitter.

Book a speaker: [email protected]

MATERIALS HERE

Every year since 2010, local Palestinian volunteers with the Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements (YAS) group have been launching a campaign calling for an end to the closures in the city and an end to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. Please follow the campaign on YAS’s Facebook and Twitter.

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February 10, 2021
Jim Zogby Talks with Human Rights Advocate Issa Amro


Wednesday, February 10, 2021 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m CT

In the months we have been gathering weekly for Coffee & a Column, I have welcomed our substantive conversations each week. I’ve also been thinking about how to expand our community and it is with that in mind that I am excited to share with you the special format for this Wednesday.

We will begin at 2:00 PM with discussion of the two violent acts in the past 20 years that have shaken American democracy: the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01 and the Capitol insurrection on 1/6/21. In “Our Democracy Was at Risk,” I speak about the weaknesses each event exposed in our democracy and the differing actions our leaders took after each, and why.

At 2:30, Issa Amro will join us to discuss the ongoing non-violent protests he is helping lead in opposition to the occupation and Israel’s politically motivated prosecution against him.

An Israeli military judge was set to rule against Issa and as Issa recently said, “we have no choice but to resort to civil disobedience until we win our right to freedom, justice, equality and a life of dignity.” Issa is a critical voice in Palestine and he will be with us to provide the latest on his case and the broader work being done in support of Palestinian human rights.

Please register here to receive the dial-in information for the Zoom call Wednesday, February 10, 2021 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m ET sharp. After you register, you will automatically get the dial-in information for the call.

Regards,

Jim Zogby