The company’s boycott is not about practical solutions to a thorny problem. Rather, it’s an attempt to virtue-signal and appease extremists who do not want to see a State of Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s board president Anuradha Mittal published a statement asserting that she isn’t an antisemite. Mittal’s disingenuous statement was emblematic of the entire Ben & Jerry’s boycott scandal.
The outrage surrounding the ice cream manufacturer’s decision not to renew a contract with an Israeli distributor at the end of 2022—because it sells its products in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)—demands a close look at the empty virtue-signaling at the heart of such anti-Israel gestures.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” the company said in a statement on July 19. While the statement did say “the company would stay in Israel under a different arrangement,” if Mittal has anything to with it—and she does—it might not.
According to NGO Monitor, Mittal has a discernible history of anti-Israel bias. In June 2021 she signed a petition to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “demanding that he halt weapons sales to Israel,” and in 2019, she tweeted: “Calling for Congress not to have allegiances to foreign countries (Israel) is not anti-Semitic” (tagging the pro-BDS group CODEPINK). She is also the founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, which has partnered in the past with radical NGOs that support BDS.
These affiliations underscore that the opposition of Ben & Jerry’s to the so-called “occupation” signifies thinly veiled hate for the world’s one Jewish state. Indeed, it has long been clear that the BDS movement is antisemitic and has no interest in a peaceful solution to the conflict that leads the State of Israel intact. “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” BDS co-founder and leader Omar Barghouti regularly admits.
Even prominent Israel critic and academic pariah Norman Finkelstein declared his opposition to BDS in 2012. “I loathe the disingenuousness—they don’t want Israel [to exist],” Finkelstein said. “It’s a cult.”
The truth is, those involved in boycotts of Israel and the BDS movement, in particular, do not speak of their ostensible desired outcomes: how to resolve the conflict or specific peaceful resolutions. They don’t so much support a Palestinian state as much as they demand the end of the only Jewish state, which is the stated goal of the Palestinian leadership.
Mittal and other critics of Israel also seem not to care about the welfare of individual Palestinians. Many will suffer as a result of this boycott, especially employees at a West Bank factory in Mishor Adumim, who will lose their premium salaries, many times what they could receive working in Palestinian factories.
So, what does Ben & Jerry’s really want?
In fact, we don’t know. The Ben & Jerry’s decision is less about what it said than what it left out. Their statement did not advocate any path to peace or support reconciliation or an end to the conflict. It did not suggest any remedy to the current stalemate.
We do know that Ben & Jerry’s is specifically boycotting Israeli residents of the disputed territories (though it will have no way to serve its two million Palestinian residents). Apparently, it supports the idea that Jews should be banned from living in these territories—thus the boycott is inherently racist and antisemitic.
The boycott also ignores the Oslo Accords, signed by the Palestinian Authority and witnessed by the international community. The Accords allow for Israeli Jews to continue living in Area C—where 400,000 of them are—and to continue normal life and conduct business. Under the Accords, services and goods for settlements’ businesses in the West Bank are allowed. Does Ben & Jerry’s oppose this agreement?
The authors of the Ben & Jerry’s decision could have demanded (but did not) that Israel relinquish territory over the Green Line—the armistice line from the War of Independence in 1948-9. But, of course, they know that Israel has offered numerous times—in 1937,1947, 2000, 2001 and 2008—to turn over most of what they call “Occupied Palestinian Territories” to the Palestinians.
So, what do they want?
The wise Ben & Jerry’s directors might also know that from every territory Israel has relinquished in the name of peace, it has been met with violence, as in the Sinai, southern Lebanon, Gaza and almost all of Palestinian-populated parts of Judea and Samaria. Is this what they favor?
In short, this boycott is not about practical solutions to a thorny problem. Rather, it’s an attempt to virtue-signal and appease extremists who do not want to see a State of Israel or care about the security of Israeli citizens. The Ben & Jerry’s action only makes sense if you ignore a complex reality—if you irresponsibly disregard extremely dangerous consequences.
Such censures of Israel need to be called out for what they are. They are not progressive, liberal statements of intent or noble aspirations. They are rarely, if ever, about the “settlements” or the “occupation.” They are not intended to help decision-makers in the region find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
On the other hand, they do embolden extremists in the region, like the terror-incentivizing Palestinian Authority—which lauded the Ben & Jerry’s decision—to say nothing of the Hamas group, which openly declares its intentions to destroy Israel.
It’s easy to postulate a political position from thousands of miles away about a conflict that few outsiders intimately understand. In fact, Israel has attempted to make peace with Palestinians for decades—as well as protect its citizens from those who vow to kill them and destroy their state. Israel has consistently attempted to lure Palestinians to peace talks—to no avail.
Meanwhile, so far, Ben & Jerry’s directors bear little price for their boycott. It is time they are called to account. It is antisemitic, anti-Israel, anti-Palestinian and anti-peace. Until the boycott ends, no American supporter of the Jewish people, no American supporter of the Jewish state, should purchase Ben & Jerry’s ice cream … or any of the 1,000-plus consumer products of its behemoth owner, Unilever.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.