Ben & Jerry’s is leaving Israeli settlements and people online are taking it very seriously
Ben & Jerry’s has historically been a very vocal advocate of social justice and environmental issues. At the top of the company’s Twitter page, a thread condemning the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is pinned. On 4/20, instead of making jokes about stoners eating ice cream, the company bought billboards to criticize racial bias in enforcement for marijuana-related crimes. Feel-good politics with a feel-good food — and their hefty cookie dough hunks — made them an easy brand to love.
But Ben & Jerry’s went suddenly silent on social media for nearly two months starting May 18, in the midst of the most recent conflagration in Gaza and Israel. That’s when an uncharacteristically nonpolitical tweet about mint chocolate chip ice cream and a recipe video on Instagram were inundated with comments condemning Ben & Jerry’s operations in Israel and the West Bank, and accusing the company of hypocrisy regarding their company values. On my own Instagram feed, posts urging a Ben & Jerry’s boycott popped up next to those condemning Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s finally broke their silence Monday morning. Days after the publication of a Boston Globe article about the social-media silence, Ben & Jerry’s announced across platforms that the company would no longer sell ice cream in the occupied West Bank would end its relationship with the local licensee that manufactures and distributes its products in the region.
Fittingly, my feed has now erupted with commentary on the decision, even more so than earlier posts about the ice-cream company’s silence. Leftist and pro-Palestinian groups including IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement celebrated the removal of Phish Food from Israeli settlements as a victory for Palestinians. Others with similar politics said that the move was long overdue, or expressed their love for the company and promised to go buy a pint.
Selling ice cream in Israel but not West Bank settlements is entirely understandable given @benandjerrys’ values and political orientation. They’ve long supported Israel—not the occupation. Distinguishing between the two is anathema to both the Israeli right and BDS, not to them. https://t.co/Eh8HCnzmp7
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) July 19, 2021
But plenty of people aren’t happy about the announcement. Some Jewish organizations and leaders accused the company of antisemitism, while other Palestinian supporters said the company should pull out of Israel entirely. (Ben & Jerry has promised to “stay in Israel through a different arrangement.”)
but all of Israel is occupied Palestinian territory..still, a step towards divestment https://t.co/lzFiuRjGgV
— Ayesha A. Siddiqi (@AyeshaASiddiqi) July 19, 2021
Loved your new taste- BDS.
FYI,according to the Palestinians, the”occupied territories”also include Jerusalem,Haifa and TLV.
Anyway,you decide not to sell your ice cream in some places in Israel? We will decide not to buy your ice creams all over Israel!
— יוסף חדאד – Yoseph Haddad (@YosephHaddad) July 19, 2021
Among those who have criticized Ben & Jerry’s decision are those who say that the complaints levied against the company’s operations in Israel and the West Bank do not apply to other regions, or governments that go against the company’s stated values. For example, Ben & Jerry’s continues to sell ice cream in China and North Cyprus. Some even accused the company of referencing the Hamas flag in the policy change, due to the similar shades of green backgrounds used in both the flag and the graphic tweeted by Ben & Jerry’s.
Politicians have jumped into the fray — Chunky Monkey became a major talking point for figures including Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all three of whom took the ice cream decision very seriously, Bennett even tweeting that Ben & Jerry’s had branded itself as “the anti-Israel ice cream.”
Over 30 states in the United States have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent years. I plan on asking each of them to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s. They will not treat the State of Israel like this without a response.
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid? (@yairlapid) July 19, 2021
Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab-majority Joint List, also commented on the decision, celebrating it — though with a bit more humor than the other posts. “My diet was going well until now,” he tweeted, with a photo of him enjoying a pint of Cone Sweet Cone.
הדיאטה הלכה טוב עד עכשיו pic.twitter.com/EzyEgyHFDw
— Ayman Odeh (@AyOdeh) July 19, 2021
The boycott movement has been asking Ben & Jerry’s to divest from Israel for years. But with several states having recently passed laws that prevent their governments from doing business with anyone who supports BDS, the decision could have larger implications for U.S. consumption of Cherry Garcia as well.
It just cracks me up that because of the way the anti-BDS law is written in Pennsylvania, this announcement might mean that the Governor won’t be allowed to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream if he hosts a day or fun for kids. Well done. https://t.co/ISmocrTF61
— Abraham Gutman ? אברהם גוטמן (@abgutman) July 19, 2021
Many of those calling the decision anti-Israel, including Israeli politicians, seem to have missed the line in Ben & Jerry’s announcement saying the company would continue to sell ice cream within Israel proper, only withdrawing from West Bank settlements. (Admittedly, it does not specify the borders it intends to follow when determining Chubby Hubby distribution.) The Israeli politicians accusing the company of boycotting their country consider the settlements part of Israel, though they are not recognized as such by the United States or the United Nations, and are considered illegal under international law.
However, according to an NBC report, the line stating Ben & Jerry’s intention to remain in Israel was not approved by its board. Anuradha Mittal, the chair of the independent board which oversees Ben & Jerry’s social mission, brand integrity and policies, said that Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, released the statement without agreement from the board. This violated an agreement made when the ice cream company was acquired by the conglomerate. The statement approved by the board did not make any mention of continued operations in Israel.
Unilever continues to sell a vast array of products throughout Israel and the West Bank.
In any case, the dire tone taken by nearly everyone about punnily-named pints of ice cream filled with chunks of cookie dough, makes me feel like there’s been a glitch in the matrix. Perhaps there will be major implications for Palestinian advocacy or antisemitism. But I don’t know how these politicians take themselves so seriously when talking about Karamel Sutra.