TEL AVIV, Israel â Israel vows to wage massive legal battle against Ben & Jerry’s after US ice cream company says it will no longer sell popular desserts in Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in protest against Israel’s current military rule over the Palestinians.
While the partial boycott of Ben & Jerry’s should not hurt Israel economically, the company’s decision and Israeli countermeasures resurface thorny questions about the West Bank, which Israel has controlled for decades but never has. officially annexed. Millions of Palestinians live in the land, with few rights accorded to their settler neighbors.
On Monday, the Vermont-based ice cream empire said it would stop sales in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” because it was “incompatible with our values.”
The company added that the deal with its Israeli licensee would not be renewed in December 2022 because the local manufacturer refused to stop selling its flavors, including Chunky Monkey, Phish Food and others, in Israeli West Bank settlements and neighborhoods. of East Jerusalem.
Much of the world considers these settlements illegal under international law and does not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel; Even under Israeli law, the West Bank is under military rule, with Israeli sovereignty extending only to the citizens who live there and not to the territory itself.
The company made it clear that it was not boycotting Israel, stating that even if the West Bank and East Jerusalem were banned, “we will stay in Israel under a different arrangement.”
The Israeli government immediately rejected such a distinction between its internationally recognized borders and the occupied territories it conquered in the Six Day War of 1967.
âThere are many brands of ice cream but only one Jewish state. Ben & Jerry’s has decided to present itself as anti-Israel ice cream, âresponded Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
He vowed to fight against the boycott âwith all forceâ.
On social media, Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists crowded in, lambasting the decision and calling for a counterboycott.
“Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy,” Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted.
Israeli Economy Minister Orna Barbivai of the centrist Yesh Atid party filmed a TikTok video of herself throwing a pint of Half Baked in the trash.
Its party leader, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, went further, saying that “Ben & Jerry’s decision represents [a] shameful surrender to anti-Semitism, to [the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement], and all that is wrong with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a global protest movement launched in 2005 with the aim of exerting economic pressure on Israel to force a change in policy vis-Ã -vis the Palestinians. As its name suggests, the movement calls on international companies and governments to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, a âregime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupationâ.
BDS has successfully pressured global artists to cancel performances in Israel, Dutch pension funds to divest from Israeli banks, and US Presbyterian and Episcopal churches to divest from international companies doing business in the West Bank.
McDonalds in Israel refused to open branches in the settlements, although it was apparently the local Israeli dealer who made the decision, not the parent company. In 2018, Airbnb announced the delisting of all its properties in West Bank settlements.
But most foreign companies operating in Israel and the West Bank have resisted pressure from anti-occupation activists. Airbnb quickly reversed its decision after a public outcry.
âEconomically, BDS has been a huge failure with no practical impact on the Israeli economy,â said Adi Schwartz, a conservative Israeli researcher and author. Foreign police, citing Israel’s booming economy and its opening in recent years to large markets in India, Latin America and the Middle East. “It’s a propaganda tool more than anything … trying to drive a wedge between Israel and the Jews in America.”
But BDS activists saw the announcement as proof of the group’s growing impact.
“[BDS] has been extremely successful in changing the conversation in America, especially among young people and American Jews, âsaid Ofer Neiman, a member of Boycott from Within, an Israeli pro-BDS group. Foreign police.
Critics of BDS complain that the group refrains from targeting other countries engaged in repressive policies and territorial disputes and focuses only on Israel. They also argue that the ultimate goal of BDS is not to end the West Bank.‘s occupation but rather to end Israel as a Jewish state. Some opponents of Ben & Jerry’s move accused the company of joining forces with a movement seeking the destruction of Israel.
Neiman, in his conversation with FP, said the group sought to draw attention to Israel’s “discriminatory foundations” and the “contradiction between [the stateâs] Jewish and democratic character.
Ben & Jerry’s has long been known for its social and political activism, including its support for gay rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the chairman of the board, Anuradha Mittal, the company’s decision not to sell the cry of ice cream to Israeli settlers had been in the works for some time.
In an interview with NBC on Monday, she highlighted the 11-day conflict in May between Israel and Gaza as an accelerating factor. In fact, she criticized the CEO of the company and the European multinational Unilever (which bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000) for not going far enough in its decision.
The board, according to Mittal, wanted Ben & Jerry’s to stop all sales in Israel, not just in the settlements. The company’s board of directors is now preparing for a legal battle with its parent company over who has the power to make such a decision.
âI am saddened by the deception of it. It is not about Israel. This is the breach of the acquisition contract [between Unilever and Ben & Jerryâs] that has maintained the soul of the business, âMittal told NBC. Unilever, for its part, said on Monday it was determined to continue its presence in Israel.
The status of Ben & Jerry’s Israeli licensee, who on Monday expressed concern over financial losses resulting from Israeli calls for a counterboycott, further blurs matters.
“We are a completely separate body [from Ben & Jerryâs international branch]The local company’s chief technology officer told Army Radio on Tuesday. âSomeone who doesn’t buy Ben & Jerry’s in Israel is just supporting BDS.â She begged the public not to harm an Israeli company that employed hundreds of people and had itself rejected calls to stop selling its ice cream in the settlements.
Israel’s legal measures would focus largely on how Ben & Jerry’s might violate US laws with its announcement. Some three dozen US states have passed anti-BDS laws in recent years. Israeli officials have said they will pressure these states to hold Ben & Jerry’s accountable.
“I plan to ask everyone [these states] enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry‘s. They will not treat the State of Israel like this without a response, âLapid said on Monday. Israel’s ambassador to Washington has already written letters for each governor.
Anti-BDS laws would potentially prevent Ben & Jerry’s, and possibly Unilever, from receiving state contracts, although some legal scholars believe the laws infringe on companies’ free speech and may not survive legal challenges . Probably more damaging, they could also force public pension funds to divest (or not invest in) companies.
“The effort here is to impose the greatest possible damage on the reputation and business costs of Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever,” both to reverse the policy and send a frightening message to other companies, Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for the Middle East based in Washington Peace, says Foreign police.
âBut that was the purpose of these anti-BDS laws: to redefine support for Israel as support for Israel and its continued control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. “
Friedman warned that it was too early to view Ben & Jerry’s decision as a “turning point” in the global debate. But she said it was already helping to shape the public narrative – forcing both Israelis and supporters (and detractors) of Israel to debate the fate of the occupation, the settlements and what exactly constitutes “Israel.” .
âLook at the amount of press this generated,â Friedman added. On all the ice cream.