Last week, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream announced that it will halt sales to the so-called “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” meaning the areas Israel conquered in the Six Day War of 1967: the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Ben & Jerry’s was founded in 1978 by two self-styled hippies, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. The duo took pride in manufacturing gourmet frozen treats that are organically pure and politically correct. Goldstein and Cohen sold Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever, a multinational British food conglomerate, for about $326 million in cash, as The New York Times reported in 2000. As part of the deal, Ben & Jerry’s retained complete independence to set corporate policies. So, Cohen and Greenfield and the company support left-wing politics as easily as an ice cream scoop dips into a soft tub of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Like their ice cream, Cohen and Greenfield are very rich. Both are multimillionaires from the Unilever deal.
Ben & Jerry’s website proclaims its pride in championing a socially-responsible for-profit business. Its website states that it supports “Human Rights & Dignity,” “Social & Economic Justice” and “Environmental Protection, Restoration & Regeneration.”
Sadly, as evidenced by its policies toward Israel, its ideas are not as well blended as its frozen desserts. Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in parts of Israel has confused the realities of the dynamics between Israel and Palestinians.
Ben & Jerry’s is not only striking out at Jews who live in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem. They’re boycotting Arabs who live in those areas as well. The targets of their most recent foray into political correctness are both Arabs and Jews willing to buy their gourmet desserts. More than 800,000 Jews live in the area where Ben & Jerry’s will no longer sell its products.
Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s owner, quickly distanced itself from its subsidiary’s decision to boycott parts of Israel.
“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, well-being and enjoyment. We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in people, brands and business for several decades,” the company said in a statement released on its website after Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc., the operating company, announced its restrictions on sales in Israel.
Unilever is understandably unsettled by Ben & Jerry’s actions. The conglomerate reportedly grossed more than 50 billion euros in 2020. It manufactures Dove soap, Pepsodent toothpaste, Lipton tea, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and many other household products. Alienating American Jews who support Israel, and Israel’s Jewish population, is plainly not in Unilever’s financial interest.
Scrutinizing Ben & Jerry’s operating company — Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc. — reveals that its chairman is Anuradha Mittal, a chronic denigrator of Israel.
The NGO Monitor reported that Mittal signed a petition to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for a halt of U.S. weapons sales to Israel. She has tweeted that “calling for Congress not to have allegiances to foreign countries (Israel) is not anti-Semitic.”
Mittal’s aggression is not limited to Israel. She criticized Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, for pledging to continue to sell the ice cream in Israel. Ben & Jerry’s board of directors, she said, desired to “release a different statement…that made no reference to continued sales in Israel.”
As journalist Alana Goodman reported on Free Beacon’s website, Mittal “has published articles defending Hezbollah and Hamas, terrorist groups that seek the destruction of the Jewish state.”
So, Ben & Jerry’s has joined the ranks of the Boycott, Divestments & Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Now it is time for Mittal, Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever to reap the harvest of the seeds of disharmony that Ben & Jerry’s has sown.
Thirty-one states, including Texas and Florida, have laws that prohibit states from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. Both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have called for their states to stop doing business with Ben & Jerry’s, including withdrawing state pension funds invested in Unilever.
“Ben and Jerry’s decision to boycott parts of Israel is disgraceful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East,” Abbott said in a statement last week.
Ben & Jerry’s mix of politics and ice cream is more than sour. It is wrong. It misses the real points of division in the ongoing controversies between Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas and Hezbollah are leading proponents of Palestinian activists. Yet, both organizations proclaim their goal to annihilate Israel.
Former President Bill Clinton has often spoken of his frustration in being unable to persuade Palestinians to make peace with Israel. “I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state,” the former president told Politico in 2016, explaining that no matter what was offered, the late Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat would not accept a resolution.
Now, American Jews should give Ben & Jerry’s a taste of their own concoction. It’s time to stop buying their ice cream. Israel’s supporters should let the managers of grocery stores know that Ben & Jerry’s politics is ill-founded. At some point Unilever may just choose to sell off the company.
And Israel’s friends in the Christian evangelical community can act in solidarity by doing the same. Activists in the Jewish community should reach out to our Christian friends and ask them to stop buying Ben & Jerry’s. The BDS movement publicly welcomed Ben & Jerry’s to its ranks last week. Israel’s friends and supporters must refrain from buying its products.
Let them choke on their Chunky Monkey.
A version of this editorial appeared in the July 29, 2021, issue of the Jewish Herald-Voice of Houston.