By Naomi Grant
Jewish organizations far and wide, the state of Israel and even American politicians have rejoiced over Unilever’s decision to sell Ben & Jerry’s to a local franchisee, thereby resuming the sale of its ice cream in the West Bank.
While it is nice to see a major company standing up to BDS and indirectly contributing to the Israeli economy, this widely hailed “victory” against the BDS movement and antisemitism comes with many caveats.
American Quality Products owner Avi Zinger previously enjoyed exclusive rights to Ben & Jerry’s in Israel before his license was not renewed due to his continuing to sell in the West Bank. Following his win in an Israeli federal court, Zinger will resume sales in all of Israel in perpetuity in Hebrew and Arabic.
But not in English.
A lawsuit was also filed against Unilever this month in the United States alleging that it had “concealed a boycott of Israel by its Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream brand that shaved billions off its stock market value,” JNS reported.
Due to violations of state anti-boycott laws, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas had divested a combined $1 billion in pension-fund investments from Unilever.
However, Ben & Jerry’s founders said they still believe it is “inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” which is completely missing the point.
Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria (what is today called the West Bank) for about 3,000 years; only in recent history — from 1948 to 1967 — were Jews prohibited from living there, which was apparently long enough for antisemites to concoct a patently false narrative about the land belonging to “Palestinian” Arabs.
In other words, Unilever is off the hook in the eyes of Jewish organizations and Ben & Jerry’s boycotters for any controversy because they sold Israeli rights to the Ben & Jerry’s brand and put out a feel-good statement that doesn’t even directly condemn antisemitism; rather, it condemns “any form of discrimination or intolerance” and asserts that “antisemitism has no place in any society.”
The statement doesn’t even stand against BDS; it says, almost as a disclaimer: “We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position,” instead of actually taking a stand against BDS.
Perhaps the worst is yet to come: Ben & Jerry’s apparently now requires new employees to watch videos on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least one of which features Human Rights Watch Israel-Palestine Director Omar Shakir.
Shakir was expelled from Israel and participated in a June 2021 conference that also hosted participants from the likes of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Refusing to sell ice cream in certain areas (limiting options for the Arabs whom the company purports to champion, no less) was not enough; Ben & Jerry’s has now implemented an indoctrination system into new employee orientation. They somehow found a way to politicize something like ice cream, previously among the least politicized, least controversial industries on Earth.
Jewish Insider reported on Ben & Jerry’s new system of indoctrination on June 13; it seems likely that Ben & Jerry’s knew Unilever was about to sell brand rights in Israel, enabling the sale of ice cream in the entirety of the country, and acted preemptively.
Now is no time to rejoice with ice cream, but rather to continue holding Ben & Jerry’s accountable — this time, for indoctrination. JE
Naomi Grant is the director of communications at the Endowment for Middle East Truth.