We asked readers about Ben & Jerry’s pullout from West Bank settlements. Their 132 responses were as divided as chocolate vs. vanilla.
Jonathan Fenster, who lives in London, said he would continue to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel — “but not elsewhere.” Jules Sigler of Ottawa, Canada, declared, “I’ve had my last lick!” and other readers said they would not only boycott Cherry Garcia, but also Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Dove soap, Lipton Tea and all products made by Unilever, the parent company of Vermont-born Ben & Jerry’s.
At the same time, Norman Green of Los Angeles said he had never before bought Ben & Jerry’s but planned to pick up two pints at his local kosher market and post about it on Facebook in support of the company. Someone writing from firstname.lastname@example.org called the company’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, “menches,” and Iris Kaminski, who recently returned from a visit to Israel, declared: “I love ice cream and I love Ben & Jerry’s!”
With Jewish Twitter in full meltdown mode last week over Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, we asked readers what they thought. Some 132 responses poured in, from as far away as Alaska and Latin America, and they were as divided as if we’d asked about chocolate vs. vanilla. Or, you know, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Several readers decried what they described as the hypocrisy of Ben & Jerry’s pulling out of the West Bank but continuing to sell in China despite its human rights abuses. Others praised the company for living its values and finding what they called a political path — pulling out only of the West Bank settlements considered illegal under international law, not Israel proper.
And then there was Evan Brandstadter. “I am not eating any more of their ice cream,” he vowed. “Nothing to do at all with Israel. It’s just that I don’t want to turn into a Chunky Monkey.”
Here are a selection of reader responses, lightly edited for clarity and length:
I applaud Ben & Jerry’s for this action. I do not consider this a boycott of Israel; I consider it a statement of objection to the settlements in the occupied territory, which I also object to. The settlements are an obstacle to a two-state solution, and therefore, an obstacle to peace. They are also illegal, and immoral.
This “meltdown” makes me want to go out and buy a box of Ben & Jerry’s, despite the gazillion calories.
JUDY LIVINGSTON, Hopewell, N.J.
Unless there is a strong and united resistance to this act of blatant discrimination and one-sided vilification of the only democratic nation in the region, this could well be the opening of floodgates that cannot be closed.
The “selection” of the Jewish state as the only malefactor is a serious and dangerous act that ought not to be lightly tolerated or, frankly, treated with amused indifference by the media. There must be immediate and nonpartisan action against the brand and its parent company. This is the Night of Melted Ice Cream.
ANDREW N. KRINSKY, New York
I am definitely going to boycott Ben & Jerry’s and urge others do the same. This knee-jerk kowtow to BDS in the name of “progressivism” is revanchism. You need look no further than the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses to find the source of this double standard, demonization and delegitimization effort.
Is B&J boycotting China for its genocide of the Uighurs and occupation of Tibet? How about the many other countries throughout the world committing violence and depriving others of human rights? But no, let’s bash Israel for the “crime” of allowing Jews to live on their ancestral lands. There is no one as morally asleep as someone who is “woke.”
RABBI MOSHE RUDIN
Cong. Adath Shalom, Parsippany-Troy Hills, N.J.
As a guy who needs to lose weight, Ben & Jerry’s poses a problem for me. But the West Bank is not in the state of Israel and, as opposed to BDS as I am, I am completely in accord with Ben & Jerry’s (completely symbolic and unenforceable) statement and will have to buy a pint in support. ED SASLAW
I totally support Ben & Jerry’s move. It is explicitly targeted not against Israel but against specific illegal creations of the Israeli government and the people who benefit from them at the expense of the Palestinian population.
Yes, the downside of the BDS movement is singling out Israel for criticism. But Israel deserves criticism for its inhumane, entitled treatment (may I say “oppression”) of its occupied population. The Palestinian people need, and they are entitled to, a vehicle for protesting and trying to better their lives. The BDS movement is a non-violent alternative to an intifada. How come American Jews don’t appreciate that?
I decry the silencing of the BDS movement in the U.S. That is un-American. Supporters of Israel here need to make a better case for themselves in the arena of political discussion. It could start with recognizing that the Palestinians are in fact a people, a fact not accepted by some vocal Jews who have closed themselves off from learning anything about the situation apart from what their hyper-inflamed leaders tell them.
I myself am not an active supporter of BDS because I am unable to move from a “middle” that sees needs of both the Jewish and Palestinian populations of this land. But I cannot refrain from commenting on what I see as irrational, ignorant, and mean-spirited responses to withdrawal of ice cream.
I am one the earliest distributors of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. I placed it in many retail establishments before selling my company in the mid-1980s. I loved their ice cream and go-to-market irreverent strategy. I met them numerous times.
I have been involved with the Weizmann Institute in Israel, which is about science for the benefit of humanity. It’s completely non-political and scientists from around the globe visit and exchange information so they can improve the condition of our planet. I asked Ben Cohen to join me in contributing to this amazing global institution. To my horror, he snapped back they have nothing to do with Israel.
I also at that time was involved with a wonderful organization called Seeds of Peace, which brought Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian youth together to break down barriers and stereotypes in an effort to nurture new future leaders that could work towards regional peace.
Ben Cohen gave me the same ridiculous answer about having nothing to do with Israel.
Fast forward: Ben & Jerry’s had an opportunity to make money in Israel. That seemed to be OK.
I won’t touch a pint of Ben & Jerry’s until they rescind their misguided policy of BDS. I don’t need the calories anyway. I guess it is the fruit salad for dessert for me.
RABBI BRUCE DOLLIN, Denver
Will I buy Ben & Jerry’s? In a word, no. However, the issue is nuanced, as many of your writers have pointed out. The BDS stance is awash with misinformation and lies and as fervently believed as other divisive issues. But the reality of the untenable position of settlements in Judea and Samaria without any geopolitical agreements from all sides makes someone like me, a committed Zionist, a bit uncomfortable.
I realize that there is no “other side” for Israel to negotiate with. I realize that the rhetoric of Palestinian “leaders: denies the reality of Israel. But I think many ordinary Israels and Palestinians just want to live in peace.
I want to see Israel live up to its ideals… both within the country and with its neighbors. I pray for Israel to have a chance to flourish and that it’s neighbors will see that the way to prosperity is through peace.
Seeking to improve Palestinian rights should not start with beating our Israeli brothers and allies into submission. The issues are way too complex to think that punishing them is justified or constructive. An American Jewish company should know better.
I wrote to Unilever in 2018, when they were going to appoint Linda Sarsour as the spokeswoman for Ben & Jerry’s. Our voices count, and it’s now war. We are in a fight for the life of our people.
We will either be bystanders or upstanders. This is not the 1930’s. But, if we don’t fight, it could become it again.I will continue to be an upstander… will you?
WYNNE ELIZABETH TRINCA
I applaud Ben & Jerry’s for this and will definitely be more likely to buy their product in the future. As Jews, we should be appalled by the settlements. It worries me that advocates of the current Israeli regime hold that their actions are above criticism or debate of any kind.
It’s also worrying that we see a vocal majority label any criticism of the Israeli state or government as antisemitism. This risks devaluing the everyday antisemitism that Jews experience and which is, sadly, increasing.
They are hypocrites. If they are so into being righteous, they should shutter their plant in Vermont and return the land, free, to Native Americans. After all that land was stolen from Native Americans by white European settlers.
And, they still choose to sell in China, where human-rights abuses occur, where our scientists aren’t even allowed full access to information about where this pandemic started, where there are internment camps to “re-educate” Muslims.
So no more Cherry Garcia. I’ll be a Breyer’s ice-cream person from now on.
I applaud Ben & Jerry’s for making the distinction between the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel proper. It’s unfortunate that Jewish organizations on the right don’t make this distinction, and have concluded that people who do are anti-Semites.
The tricky part is when people on the other side tweet things like, “Don’t they know that all of Israel is occupied Palestinian territory?” They are also not making the distinction that Ben & Jerry’s is making.
ELISE SALTZBERG, Baltimore, Md.
I don’t think BDS is the way to solve this problem. Investing in discussions and working with everyone to find solutions outside the box is better than cutting off sales and distribution.
Maybe create something new in that “space” that requires people to work together, to find small solutions to small problems, while then working on bigger problems together.
BDS just is cut and run, and creates more animosity and divisiveness, with no solutions on the table. It’s not an agent for positive change.
I am anti-BDS but pro Ben & Jerry’s. One can be both.I don’t see refusing to support the settlements as being either antisemitic or anti-Israel. It’s taking the same stand that most people I know are doing.
An ice-cream company has no business making foreign policy. An ice-cream company might assert a right to trumpet its virtue if its Board of Advisors is sufficiently woke. An ice-cream company will feel absolutely obligated to sound off when it packs its Board of Advisors with righteous, quixotic, social justice warriors as B&J has.
Fortunately, there are many other ice creams, even if they lack flavors as cleverly named.
No question in our household- boycott the boycotters by banning Ben & Jerry’s. They are vile in their antisemitism and racism besides being major hypocrites. May the woke be broke.
J. LAUREN RANDOLPH
If Ben & Jerry’s refused to sell to countries where women don’t have equal rights or where the death penalty was still imposed, perhaps we could argue for their position. This, however, is singling Israel out because it is a Jewish state. This is antisemitism.
Ben & Jerry’s decision to halt the sale of their ice cream in the West Bank strikes me as a poorly conceived and ineffective gesture mainly motivated by a desire to buffer their image with progressive circles. After all. it’s just ice cream, not weapons or bulldozers.
Certainly, ice cream does not cause any harm to West Bank Palestinians. This whole incident has only stoked animosity and ill will on all sides of the issue. It would have been far more appropriate for Ben & Jerry’s to have announced that they support a two-state solution and that they are donating some of their profits from their sales of their product in the West Bank to projects designed to aid and advance Palestinian society.
Then, if right-wing Israelis and their supporters decided in response to boycott Ben & Jerry’s, it would have been to their own detriment.
I did not buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream before, because, although throughout my life I myself am quite politically active, politicised food was annoying and unsatisfying. I do not want a large company to plan my social protest for me. And China would have been a much more worthy place to start with a food boycott to support the oppressed Uighurs, Falun Gong, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Mongolia.
I approve, wholeheartedly, to stop selling that ice cream to settlements that I feel should not be there.
Most of the bad press about Israel is about their horrible treatment of the Arabs: having lived in Israel on and off for the past 68 years, I do know that Israel’s Arabs are treated well inside Israel, but I don’t think Israelis should have moved into areas that are totally Arab and don’t really belong in Israel. AND: people can live without ice cream! Especially that over-priced brand which is owned by a mega-corporation!!!
I recently came back from a visit to Israel after a month to be with my mom, who just turned 90! My two daughters (ages 17 and 26) joined me. After a nice food tour in Wadi Nisnas in Haifa — my home town — my daughters said that they really came to Israel to be with Savta and are not interested in touring, because of how Israelis treat the Arabs.
Being involved for many years in peace forums in Israel, San Francisco and Pittsburgh (my other home town), I am thrilled that this corporation is doing something good and making a stand against the horrific actions Israel is taking on a regular basis against Palestinians.
The ongoing occupation is devastating and I don’t want to have any part of it.
I still mourn Rainforest Crunch, a candy that was made in Vermont and I associate with B&J. It came in well-designed advertising tins, of which I have three in my collection of printed advertising tins. I do miss that part of the GODs: the GoodOldDays.
IDA G. MILLMAN
I wouldn’t eat it if served on High Haven Court. Wouldn’t eat it if served at Rabbi Estreicher’s, Lustig nor Freundlich.
Most Jews in the U.S. are educated, morally questioning and ethically liberal. Therefore we support Ben & Jerry’s stance. The hysterical backlash represents the retrograde theocratic ethnic-nationalist segment of Jewish politics.
It’s ludicrous for Ben & Jerry’s to take a stand on this. It seems like it’s the brainchild of an intern in the marketing department. How it went this far is bewildering.
While it is not on my diet I will buy even more Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because of their brave stance against Israeli occupation. Only strong economic and political pressure will end the Israeli occupation of Palestine so I applaud Ben & Jerry’s for their very principled and brave stance.
The only hope for reversing the ill-thought out policy is to put pressure on the parent company, Unilever. I am a former Unilever shareholder and know the importance of shareholder value to multinationals like Unilever. Therefore, I am going to boycott Unilever products.
It’s easy because they have so many consumer products. Their website says: Every day, 2.5 billion people use Unilever products with more than 400 brands bought in 190 countries.
HOWARD MARKS, Washington, D.C.