TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel vows to wage wide litigation against Ben & Jerry's after the US ice cream company announced it would no longer sell its popular desserts in Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian land to protest Israel's continued military rule over the Palestinians.
Although the partial boycott of Ben & Jerry’s is not expected to harm Israel economically, the company's decision and Israel’s countermeasures have raised sensitive questions about the West Bank, which Israel controlled for decades but never officially annexed. Millions of Palestinians live on the territory with few of the rights that their settler neighbors have.
On Monday, the Vermont-based ice cream empire said it would cease sales in the "Occupied Palestinian Territories" because it "contradicts our values."
The company added that the agreement with its Israeli licensee would not be renewed in December 2022 as the local manufacturer refused to stop selling its flavors, including Chunky Monkey, Phish Food and others, in Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Much of the world considers these settlements illegal under international law and does not recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem; even under Israeli law, the West Bank is under military rule, with Israeli sovereignty being extended only to the citizens living there and not to the territory itself.
The company made it clear that it is not boycotting Israel and stated that although the West Bank and East Jerusalem are banned, "we will remain in Israel by a different arrangement."
The Israeli government immediately rejected any such distinction between its internationally recognized borders and the occupied territories it had conquered in the 1967 Six Day War.
“There are many brands of ice cream, but only one Jewish state. Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as anti-Israel ice cream, ”said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in response.
He promised to fight the boycott "with full force".
Israeli officials and pro-Israeli activists rallied on social media, blew up the ruling and called for a counter-boycott.
"Now we Israelis know which ice cream we should NOT buy," tweeted Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Economy Minister Orna Barbivai of the centrist party Yesh Atid filmed a TikTok video in which she threw a pint of Half Baked in the trash.
Their party leader, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, went a step further and stated that "Ben & Jerry's decision (a) shameful surrender to anti-Semitism, to (the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement) and everything that is wrong" represents the anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish discourse. "
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is a global protest movement that was launched in 2005 with the aim of exerting economic pressure on Israel to force a change in policy towards the Palestinians. As the name suggests, the movement calls on international corporations and governments to boycott, separate from and sanction Israel, a “regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation”.
BDS has had some success in urging global artists to cancel shows in Israel, divesting Dutch pension funds from Israeli banks, and divesting the US Presbyterian and Episcopal churches from international companies doing business in the West Bank.
McDonalds in Israel has refused to open branches in the settlements – although reports say the local Israeli franchisee made the decision, not the parent company. In 2018, Airbnb announced that it would remove all of its properties in the West Bank settlements from the list.
But most of the foreign companies operating in Israel and the West Bank have resisted pressure from anti-occupation activists. Airbnb quickly reversed its decision after a public uproar.
"Economically, BDS has been a huge failure with no practical impact on the Israeli economy," Adi Schwartz, a conservative Israeli researcher and writer, told Foreign Policy, citing Israel's booming economy and its opening to large markets in India in recent years. Latin America and the Middle East. "More than anything, this is a propaganda tool … an attempt to drive a wedge between Israel and the Jews of America."
But BDS activists saw the announcement as evidence of the group's growing influence.
"(BDS) has been hugely successful in changing conversation in America, especially among young people and Jewish Americans," Ofer Neiman, a member of Boycott from Within, an Israeli pro-BDS group, told Foreign Policy.
Critics of BDS complain that the group fails to target other countries involved in repressive politics and territorial disputes and focuses solely on Israel. They also claim that BDS 'ultimate goal is not to end the West Bank& # 39; s Occupation, but to end Israel as a Jewish state. Some opponents of the Ben & Jerry decision accused the company of joining forces with a movement that seeks to destroy Israel.
Neiman said in his conversation with FP that the group tried to highlight Israel's "discriminatory foundations" and the "contradiction between (the) Jewish and democratic character of the state".
Ben & Jerry’s has long been known for its social and political activism, including support for gay rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. According to CEO Anuradha Mittal, the company's decision not to sell Ice Scream to Israeli settlers had been in the works for some time.
In an interview with NBC on Monday, she highlighted the 11-day conflict in May between Israel and Gaza as an accelerating factor. In fact, she criticized the company's CEO and European multinational Unilever (which bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000) for not going far enough in making the decision.
According to Mittal, the board wanted Ben & Jerry’s to stop all sales in Israel, not just in the settlements. The company's board of directors is now preparing for a lawsuit with the parent company over who is empowered to make such a decision.
“I am sad about the deception. This is not about Israel. It's about the breach of the acquisition agreement (between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s) that has kept the company's soul, "Mittal told NBC. For its part, Unilever said Monday it was determined to continue its presence in Israel.
The waters continue to cloud the status of the Israeli licensee of Ben & Jerry, who on Monday expressed concerns about financial losses due to Israeli calls for a counter-boycott.
"We're a completely separate entity (from Ben & Jerry's international office)," the local company's chief technology officer told Army Radio on Tuesday. "A person who doesn't buy Ben & Jerry's in Israel is simply supporting the BDS." She pleaded with the public, not an Israeli company that employed hundreds of people and had itself rejected calls to stop selling its ice cream in the settlements To inflict harm.
Israel’s legal action would largely focus on how Ben & Jerry’s announcement could violate US law. About three dozen US states have passed anti-BDS laws in recent years. Israeli officials said they were pressuring these states to hold Ben & Jerry’s accountable.
“I plan to ask each of these states to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s. You will not treat the State of Israel that way without an answer, ”Lapid said on Monday. The Israeli ambassador in Washington has already written letters for every governor.
The anti-BDS laws would potentially prevent Ben & Jerry’s, and possibly Unilever, from getting state contracts – although some legal scholars believe the laws violate corporate freedom of expression and may not survive legal challenges. Perhaps even more damaging, they could force government pension funds to divest (or not invest in) companies.
"This is about getting Ben & Jerry & # 39; s and Unilever to do the greatest possible reputational damage and business expense," to reverse the policy and send a chilling message to other companies, Lara Friedman, president of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East peace, said Foreign Policy.
"But that was the point of these anti-BDS laws: to redefine support for Israel as support for Israel and its permanent control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem."
Friedman warned it was too early to view the Ben & Jerry decision as a "turning point" in the overall debate. But she said it was already helping to shape the public narrative – forcing both Israelis and Israel's supporters (and critics) to debate the fate of the occupation, the settlements and what exactly constitutes "Israel".
"Look at the press it created," added Friedman. Ice everywhere.