Complaint from Israeli lawfare group prompts investigation over student group challenging Zionism
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has announced that it’s launched a probe into the University of California’s Berkeley Law School. According to an email obtained by Jewish Insider the investigation will determine whether the school acted appropriately in response to a complaint “from Jewish law students, faculty and staff that they experienced a hostile environment at the law school based on their shared Jewish ancestry.”
This past summer, the campus group Law Students for Justice in Palestine developed a bylaw in support of Palestine, which called on other student organizations to refrain from inviting Zionists speakers to the school or holding events “in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.” Nine groups immediately signed onto the pledge.
Pro-Israel groups push phony narrative
The effort was immediately mischaracterized by pro-Israel groups across social media and even mainstream outlets. Kenneth Marcus, Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights chairman and assistant secretary for civil rights under former president Donald Trump, published an Op-Ed in Jewish Journal op-ed made the spurious claim that Berkeley Law was establishing “Jewish free zones.” He also asserted that anti-Zionism of any kind is antisemitic.
“Anti-Zionism is flatly antisemitic,” reads the article. “Using ‘Zionist’ as a euphemism for Jew is nothing more than a confidence trick. Like other forms of Judeophobia, it is an ideology of hate, treating Israel as the ‘collective Jew’ and smearing the Jewish state with defamations similar to those used for centuries to vilify individual Jews.”
The “Jewish free zones” lie also found a home in Newsweek, where Toronto-based writer Laura Rosen Cohen inexplicably claimed that they are becoming a “new progressive trend.” Cohen warns of a “civilizational decline” if Palestine campus activism continues.
“Is it any surprise that law students think it’s ok to bar Jewish speakers when a member of Congress feels comfortable doing the same thing for the progressive movement writ large?,” reads that article. “This isn’t something progressives are ashamed of, but something they are proud of. Which is why society more broadly must firmly reject this discrimination when it comes for Jews.”
The phony narrative was even embraced by some liberal celebrities on Twitter. Singer and actress Barbra Streisand tweeted the Marcus op-ed with the caption, “When does anti-Zionism bleed into broad anti-Semitism?” Comedian Sarah Silverman shared it and wrote, “9 student law groups from UC BERKELEY Ban any Jews who believe Israel should be able to exist. Even those (MOST JEWS) who are against occupation and who fight for a two state solution. This is just the beginning. PLEASE help fight anti-Jewish racism.”
In August, Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky sent an email to student leaders expressing concern about the bylaw and pointing out that he was a supporter of Israel, but he dismissed the allegations of “Jewish-free zones” as ridiculous.
“The Law School’s rules are clear that no speaker can be excluded for being Jewish or for holding particular views,” wrote Chemerinsky in The Daily Beast. “I know of no instance where this has been violated..Ironically, most students and faculty in the Law School were unaware of this controversy or paid little attention to it. After the first couple of weeks of the semester, it was virtually never mentioned. But some media outlets have brought it worldwide attention.”
In October, over two dozen pro-Israel groups (including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Democratic Majority for Israel, and Christians United for Israel) wrote a statement calling for the school to be sanctioned. “Jewish faith and identity for millennia have been anchored by the desire to restore sovereignty in our indigenous homeland, the core idea of Zionism,” it reads. “Like observing Shabbat and kosher dietary laws, Zionism is vital to the consciousness of many, if not most, Jews.”
International Legal Forum
The Department of Education’s investigation comes in response to a complaint filed by pro-Israel, right-wing lawyer Gabriel Groisman and International Legal Forum CEO Arsen Ostrovsky. The International Legal Forum is an anti-BDS group based in Tel Aviv and funded by the Israeli government.
“We said we’d act, and we did!” tweeted Ostrovsky. “Now the Office for Civil Rights has launched investigation against UC Berkeley Law School, in response to our claim against them for antisemitism, over exclusion of Zionist speakers! We will not stand idly by as Jewish students are being attacked.”
Days before the investigation was announced, Palestine Legal posted a Twitter thread detailing the situation. “The complaint is wrong on both the law and the facts,” it reads. “It claims to represent the interests of Jewish students, but the lawyers who filed the complaint have no apparent ties to the UC Berkeley community. So what do they want?”
“They want UC Berkeley to take valuable resources away from educating students and instead do PR for the right-wing Israeli line: teaching that Zionism is integral to Jewish identity,” it continues. “They want a *government entity* to dictate what is and isn’t a *legitimate Jewish belief*”
In Electronic Intifada, Nora Barrows-Friedman points out that Palestine Legal filed a complaint against Florida State nearly two years ago for allegedly fostering anti-Palestinian racism against its client Ahmad Daraldik. “There is no reason it should take  months,” Palestine Legal senior attorney Radhika Sainath told Barrows-Friedman. “If there’s nothing there, then they should dismiss it. But we have 22 pages of facts, maybe more, talking about the anti-Palestinian, hostile environment that Ahmad faced. [The complaint] is now stuck in purgatory.”
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss. His work has appeared in In These Times, The Appeal, and Truthout. He is the author of Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC.
Join CODEPINK and Meera Shah of Palestine Legal on Zoom December 14th at 2pm ET/11am PT for an important and timely call on recent anti-BDS legislation and its impacts on movements for Palestine solidarity, and various forms of divestment.
Since 2014, U.S. legislators have introduced over 200 bills targeting boycotts for Palestinian rights – and the volume of these bills have only increased, with a huge wave of legislative attacks in recent months. What are the latest developments with these anti-boycott laws, and what do they mean? Join us as we explore the impacts these bills are already having on Palestine advocacy work, on other forms of divestment activism, and what we can do in this critical moment.
Meera Shah joined Palestine Legal in 2019. She supports the organization’s casework and public education and oversees the advocacy work on free speech, academic freedom, and the right to boycott.
The men’s World Cup starts in just a few days.
The world will turn its attention to the largest sporting event on the planet.
Major sporting events, organized by corrupt sports governing bodies and fed with dirty sponsorship money, are often used in an attempt to mask human rights abuses or push through unpopular policies.
Let’s turn that on its head.
As social movements across the world take advantage of the visibility of the men’s World Cup to call for justice for all, let’s shine a spotlight on Palestinian rights and on companies complicit in Israeli apartheid.
Throughout the men’s World Cup, let’s keep the attention on Palestinian rights and call out the complicity of sporting bodies and companies like FIFA and PUMA in Israeli apartheid.Make sure the Palestinian flag is flying high. Hang it alongside the flags of teams you support and share it on social media.
Remind fans to #BoycottPUMA over its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association, which governs over and advocates to maintain teams in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land.
Stay tuned for more actions throughout the men’s 2022 World Cup.
The nonviolent BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality is supported by the absolute majority in Palestinian society. BDS rejects all forms of racism and racial discrimination.
On November 15, the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance (APSA), Black Lives Matter (BLM) Phoenix Metro, Mijente, and Puente continue their fight against the corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Arizona Supreme Court. The groups will join the Center for Consitutional Rights and the Peoples Law Firm for oral argument in court.
Our lawsuit argues that the lawmakers, who together make up a quorum of several Arizona legislative committees, have violated Arizona’s Open Meeting Law by meeting behind closed doors at a private ALEC gathering in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2019. A closed meeting of a quorum of an Arizona legislative committee where members debate, discuss, deliberate, or otherwise work is a violation of the Arizona Open Meeting Law. In a major victory in the case, on February 15 this year, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that we may continue to pursue the lawsuit against 26 Arizona lawmakers who attended ALEC’s closed meetings in 2019. The court said the legislature cannot exempt itself from its own Open Meeting Law, rejected all of the defendants’ other arguments for dismissal, and sent the case back to the trial court.
The initial filing in 2019 came after the Center for Constitutional Rights, Dream Defenders, Palestine Legal, The Red Nation, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights together released the report “ALEC Attacks: How evangelicals and corporations captured state lawmaking to safeguard white supremacy and corporate power,” which examines the harmful impact of ALEC laws on people of color.
ALEC provides a ‘pay-to-play’ membership system in which its corporate members pay high fees in return for closed-door meetings with lawmakers to deliberate, draft, and vote on “model bills,” which are later introduced by ALEC-affiliated state lawmakers across the country. ALEC boasts that approximately one third of all state lawmakers are members. They are required to sign “loyalty oaths” to “put the interests of [ALEC] first.”
Between 2010 and 2018, ALEC’s “model bills” were introduced nearly 2,900 times, and more than 600 became law. The Arizona groups leading this fight point out that marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, have been disproportionately harmed by laws produced by ALEC. These include Stand Your Ground laws, voter ID laws, legislation targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement supporting Palestinian human rights, and “critical infrastructure” laws that criminalize protests by Indigenous people and other activists against oil and gas companies.
At ALEC’s 2009 meeting, anti-immigrant former state senator Russell Pearce introduced to ALEC members what would later become Arizona’s infamous SB 1070. The law granted authority to law enforcement to racially profile Latinx people in the state. Similar laws were soon adopted in Utah, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, and South Carolina.
Just Vision, 10/20/22
Moments ago, the ACLU petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case of national significance on the right to boycott. It’s a case with massive implications for First Amendment rights.
As you know, we’re tracking the spread of anti-boycott legislation sweeping state houses in the United States – and with great alarm. Our latest documentary, Boycott, follows plaintiffs in Texas, Arizona and Arkansas as they take on tremendous risk by suing their states over the constitutionality of these laws. One of those plaintiffs, Alan Leveritt, is at the center of the case now in front of the Supreme Court.
If you’re new to this story, here’s the gist: anti-boycott laws, now passed in 34 states, require public contractors to sign a pledge promising that they do not, and will not, boycott Israel for the duration of their contract. Several Americans have challenged these laws, suing their respective states for violating their First Amendment rights. In almost every case — from Texas to Arizona to Kansas to Georgia — the plaintiffs won, with courts finding the anti-boycott laws unconstitutional.
But this past summer, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Alan’s case that boycotts are not protected by the First Amendment, a shocking break from Supreme Court precedent. The Eighth Circuit determined that boycotts, even when politically motivated, are strictly economic activity and not a form of expression.
As a news publisher, Alan believes the court is dead wrong. As he wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed: “We don’t take political positions in return for advertising. If we signed the pledge, I believe, we’d be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment.”
As the Supreme Court weighs whether to hear the case, we’re bracing ourselves for the implications. It’s become clear that these laws target more than just those advocating for Palestinian rights. Israel-focused anti-boycott laws have already been used as a template to ban boycotts on several other issues. There are now copycat bills, using nearly identical language, targeting boycotts of fossil fuels, firearms and other industries. (See our legislative tracker for what’s currently in play around the country and to see if your state is impacted.)
It’s not only advocacy for the environment, gun safety and Palestinian rights that stands on the line — but the very right to wield boycotts as a form of political expression. We’re also fully aware that anti-boycott laws are the tip of the iceberg: across the country, states – backed by corporate lobbyists and right-wing coalitions – are passing anti-protest laws designed to punish and, in some cases, criminalize political organizing and dissent.
We’re watching this story carefully, whether the Supreme Court hears it or not. But we’re also clear-eyed – the power to affect real, tangible change lies not in the courts, but in the hands of the people. We will continue to amplify those at the front lines, to ensure that our right to voice dissent is sacrosanct and fully protected.
Executive Director & President, Just Vision
Pro-Palestine activists in Uruguay celebrated a major victory on Wednesday as their country’s football team officially announced that they were not going to play in Israel as was previously scheduled.
In a statement, a copy of which was sent to The Palestine Chronicle, the Uruguayan group, Coordinación por Palestina (Coordination for Palestine), said that Uruguay’s Football Association (AUF) announced that it is not going to Israel following intense pressure.
“In these months, the AUF received four letters from Palestinian football clubs and associations, explaining the continuous and serious aggressions that Israel commits against Palestinian football and sports,” the group said.
Uruguay’s national football team will NOT be playing in Apartheid Israel.
This comes following a campaign calling on AUF (Uruguay Football Association) not to break the Israel sports boycott#Africa4Palestine salutes Coordinación por Palestina & all Uruguayan orgs👏 pic.twitter.com/wiTXHWHFbl
— #Africa4Palestine (@Africa4Pal) October 12, 2022
The many messages sent to the AUF included a letter from a former coach of the Palestinian national football team, from musician Roger Waters, along with several Palestinian intellectuals, including The Palestine Chronicle editor and author Dr. Ramzy Baroud.
“We are deeply grateful for all the solidarity and support received from so many territories and people,” the group concluded.
From The the Coordinación por Palestina team: “As we said when we launched the campaign, we do not want the celeste T-shirt to be used to whitewash Israeli apartheid or to cover up its serious violations of human and collective rights of the Palestinian people.
We based our statement on the letter we delivered on June 3 at the AUF (Uruguay’s Football Association) headquarters, with the signature of more than 20 social, human rights and football-related organizations in our country.
In these months, the AUF received four letters from Palestinian football clubs and associations explaining the continuous and serious aggressions that Israel commits against Palestinian football and sports, plus countless messages from organizations around the world asking the national team not to lend itself to whitewash Israel’s crimes through football.
The many messages sent to the AUF include: from a former coach of the Palestinian national football team, from musician Roger Waters, from Jewish anti-Zionist groups in several countries, from religious institutions, from human rights organizations and solidarity groups from five continents, and from territories as far away as Palestine/Israel, South Africa, India, Canada, USA, Europe, Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Turkey, and from our own region. We are deeply grateful for all the solidarity and support received from so many territories and people!
We hope that these messages have been read and heard by the national team players and the AUF leadership; and we are hopeful that they will be taken into account in the future. Because as we said from day one: you cannot play with apartheid.”
For a FREE PALESTINE, URUGUAY DOES NOT GO!
And stop your betrayal of Ben & Jerry’s
It’s a bloody time in Palestine right now. At least 85 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces carrying out nightly raids making it the deadliest year in the occupied territory since 2016.
There is also bad news in the fight to get corporations to stop supporting Israel’s apartheid regime. A year after SumOfUs members like you help pushed Ben & Jerry’s to make a decision to stop selling ice cream in the Palestinian Occupied Territory, Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, has made a backroom deal to reverse this heroic decision.
SumOfUs had been in contact with Ben & Jerry’s after tens of thousands SumOfUs members like you called on the corporation to take a stand against 70 years of ongoing apartheid, colonization, and daily violation of the human rights of Palestinian by Israeli forces. We know our community made a huge difference in getting Ben & Jerry’s historic announcement — multiple sources within the company said your voices had an impact on this announcement finally being made.
And now, we need you to finish the job and call on Unilever to support Ben & Jerry’s heroic decision and stand with Palestine.
Call on Unilever to stop its betrayal of Ben & Jerry’s and stop profiting from illegal settlements.
When Ben & Jerry’s made its historic announcement, we knew right-wing Israeli nationalists would use everything in their power to stop the company from leaving Israel. And they did – the day after the announcement, the Prime Minister of Israel said Ben & Jerry’s decision will have “severe consequences”. His government then sent a classified cable to its missions and embassies calling on its envoys to ramp up pressure to make sure Ben & Jerry’s decision didn’t stick.
And after a year of sustained pressure, Unilever has made a deal with another company that promises to continue selling products with Ben & Jerry’s name and breaking the contract signed with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield when it bought the company from the founders in 2000.
This Ben & Jerry’s fight with Unilever may seem like a corporate fight over ice cream – but it’s about more than just dessert. If more companies can join French telecom giant Orange in leaving the Occupied Palestinian Territory, it can kick start a corporate movement to exit apartheid Israel much like the corporate movement that forced a regime change in apartheid South Africa in the 1990s.
And there is hope of this movement gaining momentum – General Mills, the parent company of Pillsbury, Cheerios, and Häagen-Dazs, quietly divested from its factory built on stolen Palestinian land thanks to the pressure from SumOfUs members. And groups such as MPower Change have joined the campaign to call on Unilever honour its contract with Ben & Jerry’s and stay out of the ice cream maker’s business.
Let’s build on this momentum by taking action for Palestinian rights now.
At least 85 Palestinians killed this year as Israel steps up West Bank raids, PBS, 29 August 2022.
Ben & Jerry’s will amend lawsuit against Unilever over Israel ice cream sale, Reuters, 6 September 2022.
An online film salon for the acclaimed film:
Sunday, 9 October 2022
A bracing look at the far-reaching implications of anti-boycott legislation sweeping the U.S. and designed to penalize businesses and individuals that choose to boycott Israel due to its human rights record.
BOYCOTT illustrates how these laws are being used as templates to stop us from boycotting around other justice issues, further limiting our constitutional right to free speech.
A legal thriller with “accidental plaintiffs” at the center of the story:
When a news publisher in Arkansas, an attorney in Arizona, and a speech therapist in Texas are told they must choose between their jobs and their political beliefs, they launch legal battles that expose an attack on freedom of speech that has swept across 33 U.S. states
BOYCOTT is an inspiring tale of everyday Americans standing up to protect our rights in an age of shifting politics and threats to freedom of speech.
The film will be available for free viewing for a few days only, through a special arrangement with the film producers at Just Vision.
You must register to receive access to the film and to join the discussion.
When you register, you will get an email on October 4th, with a link and password to watch the film. You will have 4 days to watch the film for free before the discussion on Oct 9th.
BAHIA AMAWI: protagonist of the film Boycott, free-speech plaintiff vs. Texas Attorney General and Pflugerville, TX School District
Special Guest, PETER BEINERT: Editor-at-Large, Jewish Currents; CNN & MSNBC Commentator; Professor of Journalism & Political Science, Newmark School of Journalism, CUNY; and Fellow, Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP)
JEN MARLOWE: JustVision filmmaker, author, playwright, journalist, and human rights activist
MNAR ADLEY (moderator): Editor-in-Chief, MintPress News
This event is sponsored by:
United Methodists for Kairos Response (UMKR) and Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA)
• Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA)
• Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN
• Pax Christi USA
• Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network (EPF PIN)
• Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
• Quaker Palestine Israel Network (QPIN)
• CAIR Houston
• Unitarian Universalist for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME)
• Indiana Center for Middle East Peace
• Disciples Palestine-Israel Network
• Virginia Coalition for Human Rights
Join us for this discussion with a remarkable panel on Oct 9th!
Register today to watch the film for free OCT 5-9!
The YWCA Madison’s Racial Justice Summit will take place Sept. 28-30. Organizers are inviting the community to practice “Weaving Our Pasts, Present and Emergent Futures for Racial Justice and Co-Liberation.”
For this 21st annual Summit, YWCA Madison is collaborating with local and national practitioners, educators, artists, authors, and advocates to curate a combination of virtual and in-person experiences. The motivation is to disrupt the (mis)understanding of the different dimensions of justice as separate issues, and support an understanding of their interconnected nature.
The hope is for the Summit to support communities in deeply understanding how racial justice, restorative justice, gender justice, immigration justice, disability justice, climate justice, and so on, are truly different transgenerational dimensions of our ongoing building of practice, community, interconnectedness and power within movements for justice and co-liberation.
Some of the Summit keynotes this year are sisters Angela Davis and Fania Davis, Ericka Huggins, Linda Sarsour, Rudy Bankston, Jenifer Garcia, and sisters adrienne maree brown and Autumn Brown.
For any other questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To purchase tickets, click here.
Linda Sarsour has advocated for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories and expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. (Wikipedia)
Angela Davis supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. In 2019 the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) rescinded Davis’s Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award for Davis’s vocal support for Palestinian rights and the movement to boycott Israel. Davis said her loss of the award was “not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.” The BCRI reversed its decision and issued a public apology, stating that there should have been more public consultation. (Wikipedia)
— MPower Change (@MPower_Change) July 26, 2022
‘No Tech for Israeli Apartheid:’ Protesters Disrupt AWS Conference Over Military Contract, Edward Ongweso, Jr, VICE, July 12, 2022
Activists accuse Amazon of profiting from Israeli apartheid and insulating the country from criticism over the displacement of Palestinians.
Webinar: July 14 at 2 PM CT via ZOOM
On the eve of Roger Waters Montreal’s Bell Centre performance, the rock legend will be supporting McGill students who’ve faced a litany of attacks for advancing the Palestinian Liberation movement. The event will discuss attacks against Palestine solidarity on campuses across Canada and the importance of supporting the Palestinian struggle.
Waters will be joined by a McGill student representative to talk about the success and roadblocks to Palestine solidarity at McGill.
Host: Canadian Foreign Policy Institute
Co-sponsors: Just Peace Advocates, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill and Palestinian and Jewish Unity Montreal
Media Sponsor: Rabble.ca
Read: Rock legend Roger Waters will rally with McGill students for Palestine by Bianca Mugyenyi, July 11, 2022, Rabble.ca
See media release and list of several dozen endorsing organizations.
Today our movement celebrates 17 years.
On this anniversary of the 2005 call from the largest Palestinian coalition to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel’s regime of military occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid, we want to celebrate this growing anti-apartheid movement.
Join us in celebrating the most significant moments in the growth of the anti-apartheid movement, its globalization, its impact, and indispensable role in bringing about an unprecedented narrative shift around Palestine and the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights.
The Palestinian-led BDS movement marks its 17th anniversary today!
Watch the inspiring video below and take action now to share the strides we’ve made in the Palestinian anti-apartheid struggle far and wide.https://t.co/AfhE8ZZ5PF
Follow this pic.twitter.com/C6vkqq8Eyx
— BDS movement (@BDSmovement) July 9, 2022
Thanks to you, we were able to collectively globalize the struggle. Our BDS movement has played a central and leading role in shifting the narrative and continues that crucial role today in shining the path forward: boycotts, divestment, and lawful, targeted sanctions as the most effective forms of international solidarity with the struggle of Indigenous Palestinians for liberation.
So far, 2022 has been a very significant year in the history of our inclusive, anti-racist movement, which is rooted in a rich heritage of Palestinian popular resistance and inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and U.S. Civil Rights struggle, among others. With reports from the UN and Amnesty International, adding to the body of work developed by Palestinian, South African and other groups and individuals, we now have an international human rights consensus condemning Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians and calling for accountability measures to dismantle it.
As Palestinians continue to resist, our anti-apartheid movement is growing fast. The Unity Intifada of 2021 showed that Palestinians are one, across our fragments in colonized Palestine and across the world, in refugee camps and the diaspora, in standing against Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid.
As the Palestinian anti-apartheid movement grows larger and more impactful, Freedom, Justice, and Equality, come nearer.
Complaint says Unilever sale of Israeli business to a local licensee to sell its ice-cream in the occupied West Bank undermines its values
Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream delivery truck at factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Ben & Jerry’s has sued its parent Unilever plc to block the sale of its Israeli business to a local licensee, saying it was inconsistent with its values to sell its ice-cream in the occupied West Bank.
The complaint filed in the US district court in Manhattan said the sale announced on 29 June threatened to undermine the integrity of the Ben & Jerry’s brand, which Ben & Jerry’s board retained independence to protect when Unilever acquired the company in 2000.
An injunction against transferring the business and related trademarks to Avi Zinger, who runs American Quality Products Ltd, was essential to “protect the brand and social integrity Ben & Jerry’s has spent decades building”, the complaint said.
Ben & Jerry’s said its board voted 5-2 to sue, with the two Unilever appointees dissenting.
Unilever did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but has defended Ben & Jerry’s right to advance its socially conscious mission.
Lawyers for Zinger also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Last week, Zinger settled his own lawsuit against Ben & Jerry’s for refusing to renew his license.
The dispute highlights challenges facing consumer brands taking a stand on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which most countries consider illegal.
In April 2019, Airbnb reversed a five-month-old decision to stop listing properties in those settlements.
Last July, Ben & Jerry’s said it would end sales in the occupied West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem, and sever its three-decade relationship with Zinger.
Israel condemned the move, and some Jewish groups accused Ben & Jerry’s of antisemitism. Some investors, including at least seven US states, divested their Unilever holdings.
Unilever has more than 400 brands including Dove soap, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Knorr soup and Vaseline skin lotion.
Ben & Jerry’s was founded in a renovated gas station in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.
No longer involved in Ben & Jerry’s operations, they wrote in the New York Times last July that they supported Israel but opposed its “illegal occupation” of the West Bank.
I’m writing with breaking news. Today the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that boycotts are not protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU has confirmed they will take the case to the Supreme Court, with huge implications for free speech and the right to boycott in the US. Our team has been following this case closely as one of the key stories chronicled in our latest film, Boycott.
The case centers around an Arkansas law that requires public contractors to sign a pledge promising that they do not boycott Israel. Versions of this law have been passed in 33 states since 2016. In recent years, several Americans have challenged these laws, suing their respective states for violating their First Amendment rights. In almost every case — from Texas to Arizona to Kansas to Georgia — the plaintiffs won, with courts finding the anti-boycott laws unconstitutional.
The only exception has been Arkansas, where Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times, is the plaintiff. Alan originally lost in District Court but when he appealed to a three-judge panel at the Eighth Circuit, he won. The State of Arkansas was then granted a re-hearing. Today, the final ruling came out against Alan with the court deciding that boycotts, even when politically motivated, are strictly economic activity and not a form of expression. Brian Hauss, the ACLU’s chief litigator in the case has said that the decision “misreads Supreme Court precedent and departs from this nation’s long standing traditions.” He expressed hope that the Supreme Court “will set things right and reaffirm the nation’s historic commitment to providing robust protection to political boycotts.”
Alan believes that as a news publisher, he has a special duty to stand up for free speech rights. As he wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed: “We don’t take political positions in return for advertising. If we signed the pledge, I believe, we’d be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment.”
When we started filming Boycott, we understood there was a risk that the anti-boycott legislation vis-a-vis Israel could be used as a template. By the time we finished the film, this was already becoming a reality. There are now copycat bills targeting boycotts of fossil fuels, firearms, and other industries. As Alan’s case heads to the Supreme Court, it is not only advocacy for Palestinian rights, the environment or gun safety that stands on the line — but our very right to protest, and to band together for collective political action.
With the stakes increasingly high, we remain committed to sounding the alarm on this story, and you can help us. Share the news on social media, ask your go-to news outlet to cover this story, and get in touch to organize a screening of Boycott in your community. These laws have been able to pass with such ease in large part due to the lack of public scrutiny around its origins and implications. The time to change that is now.
Creative Director, Just Vision