Ben and Jerry say they ‘support Israel,’ reject its ‘illegal occupation’

The Jewish founders of Ben & Jerry’s spoke out Wednesday in defense of the ice cream maker’s settlement boycott, calling it “one of the most important decisions the company has made in its 43-year history.”

Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who sold the company decades ago and maintain no control over its operations, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that they support Israel but oppose its “illegal occupation” of the West Bank.

They maintained that the decision taken by their former company is “not a rejection of Israel. It is a rejection of Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is a barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation.”

Israel rejects the claim that it occupies the West Bank, saying the territory it has ruled militarily since 1967 is “disputed.”

Cohen and Greenfield called it praiseworthy for a company espousing progressive values to make the decision that Ben & Jerry’s did, noting that the settlement boycott was part of a long line of stances to that end.

“Even though it undoubtedly knew that the response would be swift and powerful, Ben & Jerry’s took the step to align its business and operations with its progressive values,” they wrote, adding that the boycott should be seen “not as anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace.”

They also defended the company, which is a Vermont-based subsidiary of Unilever, against accusations of antisemitism and support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

“That we support the company’s decision is not a contradiction nor is it anti-Semitic,” they wrote. “In fact, we believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism. As Jewish supporters of the State of Israel, we fundamentally reject the notion that it is anti-Semitic to question the policies of the State of Israel.”

Two patrons enter the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop in Burlington, Vermont, on, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

“The decision to halt sales outside Israel’s democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel. The Ben & Jerry’s statement did not endorse the BDS movement,” they noted.

The Israeli government and many of its supporters do not accept this argument, maintaining that a boycott of West Bank settlements surmounts to a boycott of Israel proper.

Accordingly, Israeli officials have lashed out at Ben & Jerry’s, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid saying the ice cream company “caved to antisemitism” and President Isaac Herzog referring to the boycott as a “form of terrorism.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan reached out to governors of over 30 US states where anti-BDS legislation has been passed in recent years, urging them to sanction Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever as dictated by those laws. A handful of states have already answered the call and are looking into the matter.

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