As more and more kosher supermarkets say that they will no longer carrying Ben & Jerry’s ice cream after the company’s announcement to stop selling its products in what it calls the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” voices are increasing in the American Jewish community to further punish the dessert maker.
In a phone interview with The Jewish Press, former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind said several actions should be taken.
“Thank God there has been a lot of reaction in Jewish stores,” Hikind told The Jewish Press by phone. “We need to get non-Jewish stores too.”
But he said that’s not enough.
Unilever, the parent company that owns Ben & Jerry’s, has products that many likely have in their homes.
“We’re going to ask people to take a little vacation from using some of Unilever’s products,” Hikind said. “The ice cream is one thing. How about Hellman’s mayonnaise? How about Lipton iced tea. What about Dove soap? Axe Body Spray? We’re going to put out a list of products. You want to hurt their bottom line? This is the only way to do it.”
Hikind said his group Americans Against Anti-Semitism isn’t taking this decision lightly and he noted that Republican Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis was the first member of Congress to call for a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s when he interviewed her Tuesday.
Hikind said the ice cream makers “were pushing for this and finally accomplished it but that doesn’t mean we should give up.” He said he said he was happy to see Jewish unity against it.
“It’s a dangerous state of affairs when Unilever is participating with BDS,” he said.
He said that when SodaStream closed down, it hurt Palestinians who worked there; plus, he noted, Ben & Jerry’s sells its ice cream in China and other countries that have significant civil rights issues.
“There is no BDS movement with China, Cuba, Russia or other countries in the world,” he said. “Only against the Jewish state.”
In America, the kashrut supervision of Ben & Jerry’s is under the New Jersey-based Kof-K.
“Ben & Jerry’s is not kosher right now,” Hikind said. “I don’t mean that in terms of the ingredients. It’s not kosher, period. When we buy their product we are putting money into the hand of the BDS movement.”
A manager at Kof-K who answered the phone said that he’d received many calls to revoke kashrut supervision and said the Kof-K does not support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. The manager, who did not give his name, said he has children in Efrat, Israel. Asked if the organization is considering revoking certification, he said, “We are considering all avenues of what we can and cannot do.”
Gabriel Boxer, known as the “Kosher Guru” who was recently on the cover of Machers Magazine, and has many thousands of followers on his online kosher food group, agrees with Hikind that people should pressure the Kof-K to revoke certification.
“Politics are already involved in kashrus for those who are actually in the industry,” Boxer told The Jewish Press by phone. “The Kof-K, which is one of the only kosher supervisions that is a for-profit corporation, which if they stick to supervision of this, they have no moral fiber of what’s right and what’s wrong, I truly believe should pull their hashkacha ASAP or not renew it, depending on the contract and their legal options. It’s very important to send a message that Jews are united across the board. We see communities are taking a stand against what Ben and Jerry’s is doing and we can’t be a kapo like in World War II.”
Asked if he could recall a product being revoked of its kashrut because of political reasons, Boxer said he could not recall one at the moment.
Some disagree with Boxer and Hikind and say that kosher supervision should be only about the food aspect and nothing else.
Elan Kornblum, president of Great Kosher Restaurants Media, whose online kosher food group tops 50,000, said he thought people should boycott Ben & Jerry’s in America and call supermarkets and politicians. But he stopped short of advocating for a withdrawal of kashrut supervision.
“It’s not my place to answer,” Kornblum told The Jewish Press. “I’m not going to tell Kof-K what to do. They have their procedures. I understand both sides. It’s a difficult situation. It’s a slippery slope to have them do that. Honestly, it’s not my place to say.”
Dani Klein, founder of the popular kosher food website Yeahthatskosher.com told The Jewish Press this morning, “I think it’s a slippery slope for vaads / hechsherim to invalidate kashrut based on public pressure, regardless of the issue. Halacha doesn’t work that way.”
He added that people considering a boycott were already doing so and didn’t need him to tell them to do so.
Rabbi Naftali Citron of The Carlebach Shul on Manhattan’s Upper West Side said he will no longer buy Ben & Jerry’s products in the United States and boycotting is a valid thing to do. But he said those who are calling for the Kof-K to withdraw its hashgacha are incorrect.
“No, the kosher label should not be removed,” he wrote to The Jewish Press in an online message. “(Something being) kosher isn’t about what you believe in, it’s about ingredients.”
He added that “if every Republican or Democrat wanted a hechsher to be a political purity test, what would happen?”
According to media reports, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that BDS would undermine Mideast peace and said he would not have Cherry Garcia (a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor) for a while.
A manager at Wesley Kosher in the Wesley Hills/Monsey area who answered the phone told The Jewish Press that the supermarket is no longer stocking Ben and Jerry’s due to their stance on BDS and numerous kosher supermarkets have done the same.
No subjects who were interviewed advocated for a boycott of the ice cream brand in Israel, saying the situation was more complex and involved a facility in Israel and franchise owners who were against BDS that would suffer financially if there was a boycott in the Holy Land.
Kingsborough Community College professor and attorney Jeff Lax, who has a weekly Monday night show on Zev Brenner’s Talkline Communications Network, told The Jewish Press that legal action must be taken.
“I think Unilever should be sued by any franchisee who has customers that oppose anti-Semitism, BDS and anti-Israel propaganda,” he said. “A franchisor has a fiduciary duty to help franchises sell the product. What the franchisor has done here, including to the Ben & Jerry’s Israel distributor, is to devalue or in some cases make worthless those franchises’ product.”
He said American licensees of Ben and Jerry’s should also sue if their customers have the same values.
According to media reports, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Unilever’s CEO Alan Jope that the move was a “clearly anti-Israel step” that would have legal implications.
Entrepreneur and comedian David Weinbach said while this was a serious matter, the phrase “don’t cry over spilled milk” doesn’t apply to ice cream here.
The Brooklyn resident joked that he would boycott the ice cream brand unless containers that were made before Ben & Jerry’s decision was announced were reduced to 50% of its original price. Ironically, there were online posts later in the day of some stores selling their containers for either 20% off or of the original price.
James Lankford, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, has called on his state to ban the sale of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
In April, 2019, the digital property renting company Airbnb reversed its decision to ban rentals in the areas it referred to as the West Bank.