We have always been dubious about the special regard often shown to the views of entertainment and sports figures on public issues. They don’t ordinarily come to the table with any particularly helpful insights and their presentations are usually bland and superficial. But for better or for worse, they do have an inordinate impact on the public at large.
So we were intrigued by the recent headline news that the iconic Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Company had decided to stop selling its products over the Green Line in protest over “the Occupation.” Their arguments were platitudinous and devoid of analysis. However, to their fans what doubtless counted was that they are the ones who said it.
But it would be the proverbial missing the forest for the trees to miss something insidious that is really in play here. To be sure, to focus one’s ire on the Green Line territories is to ignore that Israel’s hegemony there arose out of its beating back Arab efforts to eliminate the Jewish state. But it is also to ignore that, notwithstanding efforts by the Palestinian “amen corner” in the UN to rewrite history, Israel was entitled to control those areas, at least until such time as negotiations dictated a different result. In fact, though, Ben and Jerry’s has now publicly joined those who are at war with the very notion of Israel as a Jewish state.
It was not for nothing that the Times of Israel headlined its report on the Ben and Jerry’s development, “Ben & Jerry’s Board in Dispute With Owners Unilever Over Remaining In Israel.” And here is how it all came down:
The initial statement on the Ben & Jerry’s decision to restrict its operations in Israel was put out by its owner company Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry in 2000. That statement, purportedly on behalf of Ben & Jerry’s, said:
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Territory (OPT)…. We have a long-standing partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew his license agreement when it expires at the end of next year…. Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.”
In the event, though, the Ben & Jerry’s folks themselves would have none of this. Its independent board of directors made it plain in a statement that they wanted to boycott Israel in its entirety: “The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s [by Unilever] regarding its [continuing] operation in Israel… does not reflect nor was it approved by the Independent Board…”
Independent board chairwoman, Anuradha Mittal, added in interview with NBC that Unilever had overstepped its authority by pledging to remain in Israel: “It is stunning that they can say that when their statement was put out without the approval of the board. She went on to allude to Ben & Jerry’s past association with critics of Israel who described it as an apartheid state that disenfranchised non-Jews living there. This was not something that the independent board had decided, she said.
It is ironic that this dispute should have arisen so soon after Israel’s highest court debunked the notion that Israel discriminated against non-Jews. In a case involving a challenge to the newly enacted Nation-State Law as being anti-Democratic because of its special references to Jewish Israelis and to Israel as a Jewish State.
Thus, as described in Vox Magazine, the law states that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” It also establishes Hebrew as Israel’s official language and downgrades Arabic – a language widely spoken by Arab Israelis – to a “special status.” It also establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value” and mandates that the state “will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”
But as the High Court ruled, the references to the Jewish state are balanced by a panoply of laws that requires equality in the rights enjoyed by all citizens. The special references to anything Jewish, to be sure, are in tune with our biblical heritage, but as a practical matter are part of the response to the Holocaust and the lack of any refuge for Jews to escape from murderous barbarians seeking to exterminate any trace of them.
If that irks people, well, so be it.