Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Hede2000
Truck from Ben & Jerry's in Waterbury, Vermont, August 2006.

It’s been two days since Ben & Jerry’s Global announced its decision to stop sales of its ice cream in post-1967 Jewish communities. Petitions for and against this move are now flooding the internet along with statements from all advocates and affected parties.

Although it was initially unclear as to who in the company was responsible for the decision, the clouds over that question have evaporated: the proverbial buck in this matter stops at the table of the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s global company.

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The Ben & Jerry’s independent board of directors issued a statement of clarification on Tuesday, “Regarding Sales of our Product in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The board states that the acquisition agreement with Unilever “enshrines Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors with primary responsibility for preserving and enhancing the company’s social mission and with safeguarding the essential integrity of the Ben & Jerry’s brand.

“As part of this responsibility, the Acquisition Agreement grants the Independent Board the power to prevent any action by Ben & Jerry’s CEO in a number of areas related to the company’s social mission and brand integrity, including the approval of the content of marketing materials, licensing and other uses of the Ben & Jerry’s trademark.
“The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the OPT) does not reflect the position of the Independent Board, nor was it approved by the Independent Board.
“By taking a position and publishing a statement without the approval of the Independent Board on an issue directly related to Ben & Jerry’s social mission and brand integrity, Unilever and its CEO at Ben & Jerry’s are in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Acquisition Agreement.
“Regarding the presence of our product in the OPT, the Independent Board has authorized only the following statement: ‘We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. We have a longstanding agreement with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. The company will not renew the License Agreement when it expires next year. We have always been led by our values and remain committed to being a social justice company.'” the statement concluded.

Nevertheless, responsibility for this situation may also lie with the giant Unilever global firm which acquired Ben & Jerry’s back in 2000. Among the other companies owned by Unilever are Cornetto, Hellmann’s, Knor, Magnum, Marmite, Lipton, Dove, Persil, Tresemme and Vaseline, to name a few.

The Israeli government warned Unilever on Tuesday that the boycott of its citizens living in Judea, Samaria and post-1967 parts of Jerusalem would not pass lightly.

Israel Launches Anti-Boycott Efforts in US
The office of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he spoke with Unilever CEO Alan Jope about the “glaring anti-Israel measure” intended by Ben & Jerry’s Global. “From Israel’s standpoint, this action has severe consequences, legal and otherwise, and [Israel] will move aggressively against any boycott measure targeting civilians,” he told Jope.

In addition, Israeli Ambassador to the United States and United Nations, Gilad Erdan, sent a letter on Monday to 35 US governors where state legislatures have passed anti-BDS (anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign) measures to outlaw boycotts against Israel.

“In the name of our shared values of democracy and equality, I wish to bring an important matter to your attention and ask for your assistance,” Erdan wrote.

“Ben & Jerry’s announced their intention to boycott hundreds of thousands of citizens living in Judea and Samaria. We view this decision very severely as it is the de-facto adoption of antisemitic practices and advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the de-humanization of the Jewish people. . . [the] announced policy seems to also trigger potential legal ramifications, based on laws legislated by over 35 States, including your state, meant to counter these types of hate-driven boycotts,” Erdan continued.
“As Arab nations cancel their decades-long boycott of the Jewish state and sign peace agreements with Israel, and cultural and economic cooperation in our region is growing, American companies with radical ideological agendas cannot be allowed to go against the policy of the United States and act against normalization and peace. Moreover, the past has proven that the citizens of Israel are never the only ones who suffer from such boycotts as these significantly harm Palestinians as well. For example, in the supermarkets in Judea and Samaria where Ben & Jerry’s products are sold, both Israelis and Palestinians work and shop.
“The BDS movement is not interested in promoting peace or a better future for the Palestinians, but rather in demonizing and discriminating against Israel, the one true democracy and America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.
“Very similarly to the Airbnb case of November 2018, Ben & Jerry’s policy seems, as mentioned above, to also violate the anti BDS laws of many states, including the law of your own great state.”

In addition, Erdan reminded the governors to whom he wrote that several lawsuits were filed against Airbnb both in Israel and the United States. He added that several states “spoke out and even acted to enforce their laws against the company.”

Erdan completed the letter with a request for the governor to “consider speaking out against the company’s decision, and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben & Jerry’s and your state.”

Town of Hempstead Joins Fight
The Town of Hempstead published an open letter on Wednesday expressing support for the fight against Ben & Jerry’s BDS-driven decision and inviting the public to a news briefing Thursday to hear more about its upcoming actions against that company and its corporate parent, Unilever.

“At the Town of Hempstead, we stand with our Jewish neighbors against anti-Semitism and maintain a strong stance against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
Hempstead already has anti-BDS legislation in place – the first American municipality to do so – which prohibits town government from doing business with individuals or companies that openly boycott against America, Israel and other allies.”

Big Apple Stands Pat
New York City has not declared any action against Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever at this point.

However, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday, “I won’t be eating any more Cherry Garcia (Ben & Jerry’s flavor) for a while.”

“I think they’re good people, literally Ben and Jerry. I think they’re good people with good values, but this is a mistake. They shouldn’t do this,” de Blasio said.

Likewise, US Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma wrote in a tweet, “If Ben & Jerry’s wants to have a meltdown & boycott Israel, OK is ready to respond. Oklahoma has an anti-boycott of Israel law in place.”

Unilever: ‘Fully Committed to Presence in Israel’
The parent company, Unilever Global, allegedly kept Ben & Jerry’s from boycotting “all of Israel,” according to a tweet posted by the ‘Stop Antisemitism’ organization.

Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy and Board chair Anuradha Mittal “call for NO OTHER boycotts – only those that involved Jews,” the organization wrote, urging readers to “Email Unilever CEO and COO to demand they act!”

In its statement published after the announcement by Ben & Jerry’s on Monday, Unilever said,

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very complex and sensitive situation. As a global company, Unilever’s brands are available in more than 190 countries and in all of them, our priority is to serve consumers with essential products that contribute to their health, wellbeing and enjoyment.
“We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades.
“Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognized the right of the brand and its independent Board to take decisions about its social mission. We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel.”

But that final sentence is vehemently disputed by the Ben & Jerry’s independent board chair, Anuradha Mittal, a firebrand pro-Palestinian activist.

Mittal a ‘Hard-Core Anti-Zionist’
In August 2017, Mittal’s project, “Palestine for Land and Life” was published and uploaded to a permanent website of its own under the auspices of the Oakland Institute, which she founded and has run since 2004.

The project, a collection of nine reports and numerous photos and other media, was described by Mittal as one that “shares stories of marginalization and struggle, but it also documents resistance, perseverance and innovation and shows how hope and resilience, just like homes, can be rebuilt and revived – even after 70 years of occupation and displacement.

It becomes clear after reading that treatise and scanning the internet that Mittal, who has chaired Ben & Jerry’s independent board since October 2007, is a “hard core anti-Zionist activist,” as a spokesperson for the Israel Advocacy Movement put it.

“We counted at least 107 anti-Israel tweets from her,” he said in a video message uploaded to Twitter.

It is also possible to say that Mittal is not much of a friend to those living in the Palestinian Authority; at the very least she did not adequately research the possible consequences of her actions for PA residents.

There is a likelihood that the decision to deny the Ben & Jerry’s product to more than half a million Israelis will also affect their Arab neighbors.

Chen Israeli, vice president of the Sagi Group which operates in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone with around 45 employees, said he is actively involved in the distribution of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel. Israeli told the Hebrew-language Ynet site that every week for the past 10 years his company distributes two tons of ice cream to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

“My factory employs 10 Palestinians from nearby villages who receive the same conditions as the Jewish workers,” Israeli said. “These are conditions and wages that they would not earn in the PA, if they found a job there at all.
“Ben & Jerry’s decision will hurt them because if I lose a share of distribution, it’s a fact that has a direct impact on my employees.
Situation assessments began Tuesday to determine how the decision to boycott will affect local companies and property.
“Since the announcement we are in talks with everyone, trying to see how we proceed from here. I market more products, but ice cream is a significant part of our business.
“It should be understood that such a decision first and foremost harms the employees, and has less impact on the big company. The State of Israel must provide an answer and help in this struggle,” he added.

Support Ben & Jerry’s Israel Franchise
So far, there has been a coordinated effort to launch a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s products outside the State of Israel.

There is also a smaller campaign being launched by pro-Palestinian Authority media to increase sales to the brand in response.

But the most poignant statement came from the Israel franchise owner, Avi Singer, who appealed to the Jewish market not to boycott his product in Israel, because he has no control over corporate action.

“We continue to sell all over Israel,” Singer said. “We have not accepted the demand of Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s Global, so they refuse to extend our franchise for another year and a half.

“The Israeli consumer must not punish the Ben & Jerry’s Israel plant, which is independent and employs hundreds of people in the south of the country.

“The struggle is against the decision of Ben & Jerry’s Global and its parent company, Unilever Corporation,” he underlined.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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