Big chill: Jewish world reacts to Ben & Jerry’s exit from Israeli settlements

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The Times of Israel 19 July, 2021 - 07:53pm 35 views

Kosher supermarkets are rethinking their inventory. Politicians are emptying their freezers. And the foreign minister of Israel is vowing to get involved in local US politics.

The reactions were all part of the firestorm that quirky ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s set off Monday morning with its announcement that it would no longer sell ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The Vermont-based company, founded by two Jews and long known for its left-leaning politics, had gone dark on social media for two months since the recent outbreak of violence in Israel and Gaza. The announcement broke that silence, simultaneously infuriating Israel advocates who said the decision was an unfair attack on Israel and disappointing pro-Palestinian advocates who said the company should have gone farther.

Israeli politicians, supermarkets in the US, various pundits and even Ben & Jerry’s current Israeli licensee went after the ice cream maker and its corporate parent, the British multinational Unilever, for its statement. (The company’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, no longer manage the brand but have often used their frozen treats to push social justice causes.)

Here are some of the reactions to the company’s freezing out of its business relations in Israel.

Reactions from Israel’s leaders were harsh. Despite the distinctions, Ben & Jerry’s made in its statement between Israel and the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a longtime supporter of the settlements, called the decision a “boycott of Israel” and said Ben and Jerry’s “decided to brand itself as an anti-Israel ice cream.” His predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted, “Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy.

Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy ???????????? https://t.co/j7VNpIWX0f

— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 19, 2021

Israeli cabinet minister @OrnaBarb does a TikTok throwing her @benandjerrys ice cream in the trash can pic.twitter.com/NTdwVx0W4M

— Jacob Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) July 19, 2021

American Jewish groups offered varied responses to the company’s scoop that mapped to their political orientation.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning Israel advocacy group J Street, said that Ben & Jerry’s was drawing “​​a principled and rational distinction between commercial transactions in the State of Israel & those in the territory it occupies,” and said the term “antisemitism” didn’t apply to the company’s actions.

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the left-wing New Israel Fund, said that Ben & Jerry’s was not being antisemitic in exiting “occupied Palestinian territory” because “these lands are not sovereign Israel.”

“Attacking people who try and distinguish between sovereign and non-sovereign Israel by calling them antisemitic is to evade a matter of fact, abuse the meaning of ‘antisemitism’ and ultimately gaslight those who would try and work towards a future of equality and justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Sokatch said in a statement.

The Anti-Defamation League, a centrist group, said it was “disappointed” by the move, adding, “You can disagree with policies without feeding into dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel” but refraining from calling for specific actions.

— ADL (@ADL) July 19, 2021

“Due to the recent actions by Ben & Jerry’s, Glatt Express will no longer be carrying Ben and Jerry’s products. Am Yisroel Chai,” the store wrote in a post.

Aron’s Kissena Farms, a kosher market in Queens, made the same decision. The market “has removed all of the Ben & Jerry’s products in the Freezers, and will no longer sell any and all Ben & Jerry products effective immediately,” the store wrote on Facebook. “Aron’s Kissena Farms stands with the state of Israel ???????? ????????.”

Glatt Express did not immediately respond to a request for comment; nor did Morton Williams, the New York-based grocery chain whose co-owner, Avi Kaner, also tweeted at Ben & Jerry’s on Monday. His 16-store chain would be meeting to discuss “ending sales of your ice cream in our supermarket chain,” Kaner wrote.

Access to Ben & Jerry’s could be constrained another way: A few figures in the American Jewish right-wing also began a social media push to convince kosher certifier KOF-K to remove Ben & Jerry’s kosher certification.

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, an activist group based in Ben & Jerry’s home state that has been leading a years-long campaign against the ice-cream makers for doing business in Israel at all, said the move didn’t go far enough.

“By maintaining a presence in Israel, Ben & Jerry’s continues to be complicit in the killing, imprisonment and dispossession of Palestinian people and the flaunting of international law,” the group’s president, Kathy Shapiro, said in a statement. A related group, Occupy Burlington, had been a driving force behind the most recent social-media push against Ben & Jerry’s.

Meanwhile, CodePink, an international left-wing women’s group, praised the decision for showing that pressure works. But the group also said the company should do more.

“Ben & Jerry’s included in the statement that they will be remaining in Israel,” Danaka Katovich, a Middle East campaign coordinator for CodePink, said in a statement. “I hope Ben & Jerry’s continues to listen to Palestinians and their demands moving forward and will recognize that Israel’s system of apartheid exists not only in the Occupied Territories but from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean sea.

The Israeli licensee of Ben & Jerry’s, which operates a factory in the town of Be’er Tuvia, took to social media hours after the announcement to denounce the American corporation and its parent company.

The Israeli distributor called on Israeli consumers to continue purchasing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, saying that the hundreds of local workers who manufacture it need their support.

In a recorded video, CEO Avi Zinger said he had been notified earlier Monday morning that the company would not be renewing his license when it expires at the end of 2022.

“They did this because we would not agree to stop selling ice cream in all parts of Israel,” Zinger said, stopping short of specifying the distinction between Israel proper and the country’s settlements in the West Bank.

“The reason they did that is because of BDS pressure,” Zinger continued. “We are not surrendering and it’s important that you support us. I ask you all to stand by us, help us fight because our fight is everyone’s fight.”

In happier times for Ben & Jerry’s-Israel relations, the company had made a concentrated outreach to its customer base with original, Israel-exclusive flavors, including charoset and “Matzah Crunch” — both certified kosher for Passover.

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Israel's Bennett slams Ben & Jerry's boycott: There's plenty of ice cream, but we only have one country

Haaretz 19 July, 2021 - 10:01pm

Ben & Jerry's decision to halt sales in Israeli settlements shows that the company is rebranding itself as 'antisemitic ice cream,' Bennett says

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sharply rebuked a decision by the American ice-cream giant Ben & Jerry's to halt sales in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank on Monday, saying that the company had decided to rebrand as an "antisemitic ice cream."

"There's plenty of ice cream, but we only have one country," Bennett said.

The Vermont-based ice-cream maker announced earlier on Monday that it will discontinue its contract with its Israeli licensee following "concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners."

"Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian territories], we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready," it added.

In his statement, Bennett called the company's decision "morally wrong," and said that he believes it will also prove to be "financially wrong." Bennett added: "The boycott of Israel – a democracy surrounded by isles of terrorism – reflects a complete loss of direction."

"The boycott isn't working and it won't work, and we will fight it with everything we've got," the prime minister said. 

Ben & Jerry's, which launched in 1978, has long been associated with progressive values. But until now, Ben & Jerry’s had conspicuously refrained from weighing in on Israeli-Palestinian affairs. In June, the Ben & Jerry's social media accounts were bombarded with criticism for licensing a factory in Israel which provides Israeli settlements with products, and the accounts had remained silent until today. 

The Israeli Ben & Jerry’s, the brand’s only independent licensee, is widely popular. It has produced special flavors for holidays, such as haroset for Passover and “mixed-up” for this spring’s national election, and last year held a Purim costume party whose prize was a six-month supply of ice cream.

In its statement, Ben & Jerry's also said: "We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year."

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Ben & Jerry's freezes ice cream sales in Israeli settlements

Haaretz 19 July, 2021 - 10:01pm

Vermont-based company says Ben & Jerry's ice cream will stay in Israel through a different arrangement, but won't be sold in the 'occupied Palestinian territories'

WASHINGTON - Ben & Jerry's announced Monday that it would end sales of ice cream in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, following "concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners."

"Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready," Ben & Jerry's added.

The Vermont-based ice cream company, which launched in 1978, has long been associated with progressive values. Last year, following the murder of George Floyd, the company added a special section of its website devoted to combating white supremacy.

But until now, Ben & Jerry’s had conspicuously refrained from weighing in on Israeli-Palestinian affairs. So while it has readily marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling barring school segregation in the 1950s and condemned the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack as a riot for white supremacy, the company did not mention Israel or Palestine even as the flare-up in May grabbed headlines around the world. 

Ben & Jerry’s will end sales of our ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Read our full statement: https://t.co/2mGWYGN4GA pic.twitter.com/kFeu7aXOf3

The criticism of the brand over its silence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict coalesced during the most recent fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip. In June, Ben & Jerry's social media accounts were bombarded with criticism for licensing a factory in Israel which provides Israeli settlements with products. Since then and until today, Ben & Jerry's social media was silent.

In its statement, Ben & Jerry's also said: "We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year."

The Israeli Ben & Jerry’s, the brand’s only independent licensee, is widely popular. It has produced special flavors for holidays, such as haroset for Passover and “mixed-up” for this spring’s national election, and last year held a Purim costume party whose prize was a six-month supply of ice cream.

Meanwhile, the Israeli franchisee promised to continue selling its products throughout Israel, and urged consumers not to boycott Ben & Jerry's ice cream. “Global Ben & Jerry’s decided not to renew the agreement with us in another year and a half in light of our refusal [to comply] with their demand and stop selling throughout Israel," the Israeli franchisee said.

"We call on the Israeli government and consumers not to permit a boycott of Israel. This is an unprecedented step by Unilever, the owner of global Ben & Jerry’s. Ice cream is not part of politics. We call on Israelis to continue to buy [this] Israeli product, which provides a living for hundreds of workers in the south."

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sharply rebuked Ben & Jerry's decision, saying that the company has decided to rebrand as an "antisemitic ice cream." "There are many brands of ice cream," Bennett said. "But we only have one country."

In his statement, Bennett called the company's decision "morally wrong," and said that he believes it will also prove to be "financially wrong." "The boycott of Israel – a democracy surrounded by isles of terrorism – reflects a complete loss of direction."

Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy 🇮🇱💪 https://t.co/j7VNpIWX0f

"The boycott isn't working and it will not work, and we will fight it with everything we've got," the prime minister said.

For his part, current opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: "Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy."

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid upbraided Ben & Jerry's, calling its decision a "shameful surrender" to BDS and to antisemitism. Lapid noted that many states in America have laws against sanctioning Israel, and promised to demand they implement these laws against the Vermont company. "We will not stay silent," Lapid said.

The Foreign Ministry also issued a statement, saying that the Ben & Jerry's decision was a "willing cooperation with economic terrorism led by the boycott movement, an anti-Israeli movement tinted with antisemitic hues.

"It is a discriminatory and immoral decision that singles out Israel, harms both Israelis and Palestinians, and gives a tailwind to extremist, thuggish groups. This decision not only does not advance peace and the solution of the conflict, but strengthens the opponents of reconciliation between the two peoples and those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel."

The Foreign Ministry also rebuked Unilever, the company that owns Ben & Jerry's, for not taking a moral stand on the matter. Unilever Israel said it was aware of the ice cream company’s decision and “wants to make clear that Unilever Israel has no connection to the Ben & Jerry’s brand in Israel, which is run by a franchisee and is a competitor of Unilever’s in the local ice cream market.”

The Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said it hopes Ben & Jerry's backtracks on its decision, and in the meantime urged Israelis to buy local ice cream instead of Ben & Jerry's. "In the hot summer days, we urge Israelis around the country to eat delicious, sweet Israeli ice cream. There's no need to buy products from companies that boycott hundreds of thousands of citizens of the State of Israel because of where they chose to live," they said in a statement.

"We hope that the Ben & Jerry's company will walk back this discriminatory decision, which brings a bitter spirit to such a sweet area."

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee — the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington — sharply criticized the "discriminatory" move. "It is against the interests of peace and reconciliation to launch a one-sided boycott when it is the Palestinian leadership that refuses to come to the negotiating table with Israel," an AIPAC spokesperson told Haaretz.

Americans for Peace Now, the U.S. sister organization to Israel's left-wing Peace Now, praised the move, congratulating Ben & Jerry's "for making a principled distinction between sovereign Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal and illegitimate."

Arab American Institute Director Omar Baddar said "Ben and Jerry's deserves praise for doing the right thing," adding that "in a better world, you wouldn't need praise for merely abiding by international law and refraining from profiting off of land theft."

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Ben & Jerry's to boycott West Bank settlements, east Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Post 19 July, 2021 - 08:31pm

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Ben & Jerry's Says It Will Stop Ice Cream Sales In Occupied Territories

NPR 19 July, 2021 - 05:47pm

Ben & Jerry's said it will stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, calling it "inconsistent with our values." The company did not say when it would halt sales, but its sole local Israeli manufacturer vowed to continue selling as usual until its license expires at the end of 2022.

The Vermont-based ice cream maker said it would continue sales inside Israel but would not renew its license with the Israeli manufacturer that has produced the company's legendary flavors locally for more than three decades.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the decision "antisemitic," and called on U.S. states with laws against Israel boycotts to sanction Ben & Jerry's. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the move "morally wrong" and vowed to fight it.

"Ben & Jerry's has decided to brand itself as the anti-Israel ice cream," Bennett said in a statement.

The decision, announced Monday, follows a campaign by pro-Palestinian activists in the U.S. to boycott the confectioner for allowing ice cream sales in Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinians seek that territory for a future independent state.

The BDS movement, which calls for boycotts of Israel and which Israeli leaders label discriminatory, said Ben & Jerry's "is finally bringing its policy on Israel's regime of oppression against Palestinians in line with its progressive positions on Black Lives Matter and other justice struggles."

It's unclear if Ben & Jerry's, owned by Unilever, is just targeting Israeli settlement sales, or if it also intends to end sales of its ice cream in Palestinian-owned stores in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A Ben & Jerry's spokesperson declined to elaborate. Two stores that sell Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the Palestinian city of Ramallah declined comment.

The company said it would "stay in Israel through a different arrangement" and would provide details on a later date. It is unclear how the company intends to continue sales in Israel while preventing sales in Israeli settlements. Israel outlaws boycotts of its settlements in the West Bank.

Avi Zinger, owner of Ben & Jerry's local Israeli manufacturer in southern Israel, told Ynet News that the company refused to renew his license after it expires in late 2022 because he declined to stop sales in the West Bank.

"I answered, 'I am Israeli and I cannot limit my sales there and also the law requires me to sell in all of Israel,' Zinger told YNet News. "I cannot go against my country."

In an Instagram video, Zinger called on Israelis to stand by the local Ben & Jerry's manufacturer and "help us fight, because our war is everyone's war."

Ben & Jerry’s to Stop Selling Ice Cream in West Bank Settlements, East Jerusalem

The Wall Street Journal 19 July, 2021 - 04:51pm

Sales in the settlements of Palestinian territories were “inconsistent with our values,” the company said Monday in a statement on its website.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett denounced Ben & Jerry’s move. “This decision is morally wrong and I believe that it will become clear that it is also commercially wrong,” he said on Twitter.

Ben & Jerry’s, a unit of Unilever PLC, won’t renew its agreement with its licensee in Israel, which manufactures and distributes ice cream in the region. The company said that after the agreement expires at the end of next year, it will make a different arrangement to stay in Israel.

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. Around 700,000 Jewish settlers live in those areas. Israel considers East Jerusalem as part of its capital, while Jewish settlements in the West Bank are still technically under military occupation authority. In practice though, the settlements are treated largely the same as the rest of Israel and supported by the government.

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