Unilever won’t act. We all must.
As if we don’t have enough challenges. A deadly pandemic that keeps coming back again and again. Violent antisemitic hate crimes on the streets of New York and Los Angeles. Neo-Nazis, Rashida Tlaib, Rutgers University—and now Ben and Jerry’s.
Its board, led by an activist antisemite, was initially going to stop selling their ice cream to all 10 million people in Israel altogether but was forced to limit the boycott by their corporate bosses at Unilever to East Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, otherwise referred to as Palestinian Occupied Territories.
When the Israeli Ben & Jerry’s refused to stop their sales, they were informed that they would be out of business by the end of 2022.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with Jews in Israel and the world over have protested vigorously to both Ben & Jerry’s and their bosses at Unilever.
It turns out that this is one issue where every person, every Jew in New Jersey can make a difference.
Yes, for one thing, New Jersey and many of its localities have anti-BDS statutes.
The New Jersey anti-BDS statute requires pension fund divestment of corporate entities found to be guilty of BDS practices, and that review process of Unilever, conducted by the State Treasury Department, has already been triggered and is underway. In addition, the governor has clearly signaled his support of that process in his public comments expressing “disappointment” in Ben & Jerry’s decision to target Israel.
In addition, over the past few years, the SWC efforts have led directly to almost 40 local New Jersey municipalities independently passing anti-BDS resolutions, ensuring that there is additional pressure in Trenton to enforce the anti-BDS state statute.
Of course, every Jewish household has the right to stop buying Ben & Jerry’s whether at one of their stores, a 7-Eleven or a supermarket. And we urge you to politely educate local Ben & Jerry’s franchise owners, and other stores carrying their ice cream, why their decision to boycott only Jews in their historic homeland, not only hurts and insults our community but sets a dangerous precedent for other selective outrages by powerful corporations. We should politely explain to marketers of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in our neighborhoods that we take our business elsewhere with great reluctance. Perhaps when enough franchise owners express their outrage that their businesses are being damaged by an unfair political decision made by corporate elites, things just might change.
We want to briefly share our recent Zoom encounter, together with Jewish activists from Englewood, the owner of multiple Ben & Jerry’s stores and a top executive from the company sitting at corporate headquarters in Vermont.
Despite the community leaders’ best efforts to enlist a modicum of support or at least understanding from the franchise owner as to why the Jewish community is so aggrieved, she refused, saying she was an immigrant from Turkey and referring all questions to the executive in Vermont. It turned out she owns multiple Ben & Jerry’s stores.
All we got from the Ben & Jerry’s executive was lectures—insisting that they didn’t speak for all Jews and that there were other Jews who agreed with Ben & Jerry’s. (We were to learn that they soon arranged for anti-Zionist Peter Beinart to be on a call with a group of franchisees justifying and promoting their boycott.)
This is a fight that is far from over. The SWC will be communicating directly with the corporate owners of Ben & Jerry’s, the behemoth Unilever. They have the power to order a reversal of the immoral boycott, and we intend to press them to do the right thing. Or we may stop buying Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Dove soap in the future.
We cannot and will not allow corporate antisemitism to go unchallenged.
Abraham Cooper is the associate dean and director of global social action, and Michael Cohen is the eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.