The hair-on-fire reaction to Ben and Jerry’s decision to no longer market its products in Israeli settlements on the West Bank when current contracts expire at the end of 2022 seems wildly disproportionate to the scope of the decision. It calls to mind the line from Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much . . .” American conservatives who wail about cancel culture and Big Tech censorship have implemented anti-Boycott, Divest, and Sanction legislation, almost certainly an abridgement of the First Amendment rights they claim to champion, in 35 states. The real danger is that people may be starting to take a hard look not just at the Palestine-Israel issue, long one of America’s least favorite topics, but at the bipartisan and slavish devotion of so many US politicians to the Israel and Jewish lobbies. From Patrick Lawrence at consortiumnews.com:
Targeting and killing Palestinian children could not accomplish what a decision by an ice cream company has achieved. To be sure, the visual impact of Israel’s recent onslaught on Gaza turned many against that country’s war crimes and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, but what the Israeli government really has feared most is an economic and cultural boycott such as the one that brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa. That blow came last week when Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which is sold in the food shops in the illegal-under-international-law Israeli settlements on the West Bank, would no longer market its product in those areas after the current contract with suppliers expires at the end of 2022.
Social media and mainstream media normally censor any posts or stories that are too critical of the Jewish state, but in this case the decision reverberated throughout the media as ice cream wars are both newsworthy and exceedingly rare. But the dramatic response by both Israeli politicians and their spear carriers in the US Congress indicated just how serious the move, little more than a gesture in practical terms, was considered to be.
There was also a touch of irony to the tale as Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were and still are both politically liberal Jewish New Yorkers who moved to Vermont to open their business. The fact is that they were not party to the decision as they had sold their company to British food and consumer home products conglomerate Unilever back in 2000, which is precisely the problem for the Israeli government. Even though Ben & Jerry’s has an independent board, its parent company Unilever is a major corporation. The fact that it accepted a decision that it knew would be extremely controversial is significant as there would have to have been a consensus over the issue by the company’s top executives and board as well by major shareholders. There are indeed reports that the independent board of Ben & Jerry’s wanted to boycott all of Israel but was restrained by Unilever management. Either way, for Israel it was perhaps the shape of things to come with other companies possibly following the Ben & Jerry example by limiting their involvement in the country’s economy or pulling out altogether.