I have seen many things in my time, but I must admit that I didn’t have “entire country goes to war with ice cream” on my bingo card of life. And yet, here we are, because the state of Israel is now at daggers drawn with its mortal enemy, Ben & Jerry’s.
The ice cream giant has been under pressure for years to stop doing business in the Israeli-occupied territories, in defiance of international law, the BDS movement, and Ben & Jerry’s supposed progressive values. The most recent Israeli assault on Palestinians in both Gaza and within Israel appears to have convinced the company that the status quo was no longer tenable, and on Monday, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would no longer sell its ice cream in the occupied territories, and that it would move to cut ties with the Israeli company that manufactures and distributes its products in the region.
It’s important to note that, though many have seen this as a clear win for the BDS movement, not everyone is fully satisfied with the scope of what Ben & Jerry’s has announced. For instance, the group Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, which has been leading a campaign in Ben & Jerry’s home state for years, issued a statement saying that it wanted the company to go further, and pull out of Israel altogether. (Ben & Jerry’s promised that it would continue to sell its goods within Israel proper.) The company also drew criticism for not being more explicit in its statement about its objections to Israeli policy.
Such nuance, though, failed to cut through to the Israeli government, which has now made it a mission to destroy Ben & Jerry’s.
I’m serious about this. Both the prime minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett, and Yair Lapid, the foreign minister and co-leader of the coalition that governs the country, personally denounced the company.
Yes, that is the prime minister of Israel taking time out of his day to brand an ice cream as “anti-Israel.” That is the foreign minister of Israel asking U.S. states to punish an ice cream company for its business decisions. Yair Lapid will not rest until every pint of Cherry Garcia in Texas has been set alight in a righteous bonfire! Yair Lapid wants the Florida National Guard to slap handcuffs on all Phish Food cones within state limits! Yair Lapid needs California to arrest everyone who comes within a 5-mile radius of a Ben & Jerry’s!
This is funny and stupid, obviously, but it should also be at least a little heartening for anyone seeking an end to Israeli occupation and apartheid. Israel is freaking out about ice cream because it is a symbol of the country’s increasing failure to control the narrative about its subjugation of the Palestinian people. The prime minister is losing his mind because Israel is facing a growing crisis of legitimacy among the kinds of people who think Ben & Jerry’s represents their values. It is very possible to read too much into this—it’s not like Israel really faces any imminent challenge to its power—but Israel derives a great deal of strength from its ties to the American mainstream, and anything that threatens to fray those ties is seen as a code red problem. Today ice cream, tomorrow the world—well, one can hope, at any rate.
Update, 6:57 p.m. ET: Well, well. From NBC News:
The Ben & Jerry’s board had been pushing to withdraw ice cream sales from the occupied territories for years, said the board’s chair, Anuradha Mittal. However, it wanted to release a different statement, reviewed by NBC News, that made no reference to continued sales in Israel — a decision that Mittal said would require board approval — and highlighted the company’s commitment to social justice.
Unilever released the statement against the wishes of the board and in violation of a legal agreement made when it bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, Mittal said.
“I am saddened by the deceit of it,” Mittal said. “This is not about Israel. It is about the violation of the acquisition agreement that maintained the soul of the company. I can’t stop thinking that this is what happens when you have a board with all women and people of color who have been pushing to do the right thing.”