The Jewish people spent two thousand years pining to return to their land. While they might not have used a term coined hundreds of years later, Zionism, the Jewish people’s desire to return to Eretz Yisrael is consistent with the values of the modern political movement called Zionism. The intimate connection the Jewish people share with their historic homeland is more than just a feeling, it is a historic fact and provides legal standing for the Jewish people’s claim to their land. When opponents deny the Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel, they reject historic fact.
After last year’s operation between Gaza terrorist group Hamas and Israel, Vermont-based ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s announced it would no longer allow its ice cream to be sold in Judea and Samaria, the area the world calls the “West Bank.” Their announcement created a large controversy that saw American states divest its investments from Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever. Many American states have laws against allowing state funds to be invested in companies that boycott Israel as part of the anti-Israel Boycott, Sanction and Divest movement (BDS).
In July 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution against BDS. It stated that BDS “[t]argets Israel and is a campaign that seeks to exclude the State of Israel and the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of the rest of the world; demands concessions of one party alone and encourages the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure; and the founder of the Global BDS Movement, Omar Barghouti, has denied the right of the Jewish people in their homeland, saying, ‘We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.’ The global BDS movement targets not only the Israeli government but also Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, religions, and ethnicities, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel; and it does not recognize, and many of its supporters explicitly deny, the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination; The House of Representatives opposes the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement targeting Israel.” Besides the American objection to BDS, there is a perception that BDS’s refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel and to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination is antisemitic in nature.
Ben & Jerry’s refusal to sell ice cream in Judea and Samaria was perceived by many as antisemitic. Multiple lawsuits were filed against Unilever, and Zionists around the world stopped eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. In Israel, where the Ben & Jerry’s distributor refused to comply with the boycott against Israel, Israelis doubled down and bought Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Israeli towns held Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parties to object to the Ben & Jerry’s opposition to their existence.
This week Unilever announced it was overriding Ben & Jerry’s boycott and had come to an agreement with Ben & Jerry’s Israel distributor. Unilever sold its Ben & Jerry’s holding in Israel to Avi Zinger, the Israeli manufacturer and distributor of Ben & Jerry’s. Zinger and his company also bought the exclusive rights to the Ben & Jerry’s logo in Hebrew and Arabic. Ben & Jerry’s responded by tweeting, “While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it. Our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry’s in Israel. We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
While most of the Zionist community saw the Unilever reversal as a significant victory for Israel and the forces that counter the BDS movement, there were some naysayers who focused more on the Ben & Jerry’s announcement and understood the boycott as continuing. They argued that without Ben & Jerry’s reversing their decision – as opposed to being overridden by their parent company – the boycott’s purpose is still being achieved. I disagree with this negative position. I see Unilever’s reversal as a major victory for Zionists.
In its letter explaining its decision to override Ben & Jerry’s boycott, Unilever CEO Alan Jope wrote, “I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate how proud we are of our business in Israel, which remains an important market for us. I would also like to make it exceptionally clear that Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the BDS movement and have no intention of changing that position.” Jope’s letter demonstrates that in the face of an antisemitic attack on the Jewish right to Israel, rational positions prevailed. When the “children” (Ben & Jerry’s) took immature positions, the “adults” (Unilever) stepped in and corrected the mistake.
Zionism, the movement that stands for the Jewish right to self-determination in the Jewish people’s historic homeland, is a just movement and isn’t dependent on other people’s approval. At the same time, it’s important to make sure Israeli companies and individuals aren’t hurt by those who practice economic warfare using discriminatory measures against Israeli companies simply because they are Zionists. The Israeli ice cream consumer should celebrate this week with a pint of their favorite flavor and recognize they can eat delicious ice cream knowing that antisemites aren’t getting a shekel from Zionists. I can’t imagine a better win-win scenario.