In July 2021, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would stop selling ice cream in what it describes as the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” also known as the West Bank. Ostensibly, the company’s decision was based upon its concept of social justice, claiming that selling in the West Bank is inconsistent with its values. It should be noted that there is no other country where Ben & Jerry’s refuses to sell its ice cream in an occupied territory, including Cyprus, where there is Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus, and Tibet, which is occupied by China. The company’s decision to stop ice cream sales in the West Bank was supported by its parent company, Unilever. The question is, what does the boycott accomplish and who does it affect?
While announced about 10 months ago, the boycott has not yet taken effect. The Israeli licensee for Ben & Jerry’s, Avi Zinger, has refused to comply with the company’s announced boycott. His stated reasons are that it will violate Israel’s anti-discrimination and anti-boycott laws, as well as the anti-boycott laws of the United States. Unilever has announced it will not renew Zinger’s license when it expires at the end of 2022.
Zinger claims the boycott will harm Palestinians and runs contrary to what should be Ben & Jerry’s goals of social justice. He points out that he works with both Palestinians and Israelis, and that the products sold in the West Bank are enjoyed by more Palestinians than Israelis. He believes that the boycott will result in Palestinian loss of economic opportunities. The “Fruits of Peace” program sources local ingredients from Palestinian farmers for local ice cream flavors. Palestinian workers are involved in the manufacture and distribution of the ice cream. Additionally, the West Bank distribution company for Ben & Jerry’s warns that Palestinians will lose salaries and working conditions they cannot obtain from the Palestinian Authority.
Zinger points out that the boycott was promoted to Ben & Jerry’s by the antisemitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement, which is contrary to efforts at peace in the region. The BDS Movement opposes any normalization with Israel. It opposes cooperative efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. It is opposed to the existence of the State of Israel and a two-state solution.
Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist living in Jericho in the West Bank, agrees with Zinger. He states that he and other Palestinian families routinely shop at the Gush Etzion commercial center, located in an Israeli community in the West Bank, which houses a Ben & Jerry’s shop. He says the commercial center is a “true realization of coexistence, as both Jews and Muslims from both Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories... work and shop” there. He strongly believes the boycott “will actively hurt the Palestinian people.”
There are a number of questions one must ask when considering Ben & Jerry’s decision to boycott sales to the West Bank:
- What are they trying to accomplish?
- Assuming they believe social justice requires them to support the boycott, what are the unintended consequences?
- Should they support a boycott that brings economic loss to the people for whom they seek “justice?”
- Should they support a boycott that will impede peace rather than advance the prospects of peace?
- Should they support a boycott urged by those who seek the destruction of the State of Israel?
- Is the support of a boycott in the West Bank hypocritical?
- Why is Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, only supporting a boycott of ice cream? Why not a boycott of all its retail products sold in the West Bank?
- If they are going to boycott sales in the West Bank, should they also boycott sales in other countries where there are territorial disputes such as in Cyprus or Tibet?
- Should they boycott the myriad countries where true human rights abuses occur?
In summary, Ben & Jerry’s boycott will cause economic harm to Palestinians, the people Ben & Jerry’s purports to be trying to help. It is antithetical to the advancement of peace in the region. The boycott supports a movement that seeks the complete elimination of the State of Israel. Ben and Jerry themselves, the company’s founders, claim to be supporters of Israel and deny any antisemitic animus, but does their support of the actions of their company belie their statements?
As part of its charter, the Community Relations Committee works to support Israel and fight antisemitism. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions or are interested in the CRC, please contact me at CRCchair@jfedsrq.org.
David Millstone retired from the private practice of law with a major international law firm in 2014 and became a resident of Florida the following year. He presently works as an Arbitrator and Mediator. Mr. Millstone is the former Anti-Defamation League Chair for its International Affairs Committee and its Education Committee. He is on the board of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee where he serves as Secretary. Any opinions expressed in this article are those of Mr. Millstone and not necessarily those of The Jewish News or the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.