Ben & Jerry’s Israel boycott a BDS game changer - five reasons why

Israel has long been the subject of boycotts and weathered more than one consumer battle, but the Ben & Jerry’s boycott is not just one more routine showdown.

Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Illustrative) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Illustrative)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
If Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israel was a flavor, it would be called “BDS game changer.”
It is not for nothing that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was dramatic in its description of the victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement announced on Monday.
“This is huge,” PSC tweeted. “The tide of history is turning,” it exclaimed.
At first glance, it doesn’t seems like one ice-cream scoop more or less could be so significant in BDS’s anti-Israel battle, in which it uses the threat of boycotts to pressure the Jewish state to destroy its West Bank settlements and withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, including in Jerusalem.
On a monetary level, the decision by Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, not to renew the license of one of Israel’s most popular ice-cream brands after a 35-year run over sales to the settlements unjustly kills one man’s business and leaves his employees out of work.
But it hardly harms the nation’s economy.
In a country with a growing ice-cream industry made up largely of local brands, it won’t even leave Israelis out in the cold when it comes to the creamy delicacy.
So does it matter if the pint in an Israeli freezer says Golda, Aldo or Strauss rather than Ben & Jerry’s?
Israel has long been the subject of boycotts, and it has weathered more than one consumer battle.
But the Ben & Jerry’s boycott, set to go into effect at the end of 2022, is not just one more routine showdown.
Here are five reasons why:

1. Loving ice cream makes it easier to hate Israel


Hard to imagine that ice cream, of all things, could be dangerous. But its innocence is precisely what makes it so harmful.
The cool dessert might melt easily in one mouth, or on the countertop, but it makes a lasting impression on one’s heart, and so will this boycott.
Everyone loves ice cream. It brings to mind birthday parties and childhood summertime fun with long days on the beach and in the park.
If an ice-cream company takes the trouble to brand a country as so problematic that it must be deprived of something so natural and good, then the easy presumption is that such a nation must truly be evil.
It’s the kind of immediate branding that is difficult to do with other products, such as investment companies, tractors or even SodaStream, which was a specialty market.
That the company in question is Ben & Jerry’s, which is well known and has a history of standing up for social justice, only underscores that message.

2. Boosts BDS after Abraham Accords defeat


The Abraham Accords brokered by former US president Donald Trump had helped take the wind out of the BDS sails.
The deal under whose rubric Israel was able to normalize ties with four Arab nations, despite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, made it difficult to continue to argue for boycotts of Israel.
If the United Arab Emirates was creating business opportunities with Israel, why would companies in the US and Europe fail to do so. UAE businesses even signed deals to import products from the settlements, such as wine, honey and olive oil.
Until this week, it almost seemed as if the BDS movement had become passé, now it has been revived.
 

3. Boycott targets Israel within the Green-Line


Ben & Jerry’s boycott targets a company that is not located in a West Bank settlement or in a Jewish neighborhood of east Jerusalem. The Israeli ice-cream factory is situated in Be’er Tuviya, in the South between Ashkelon and Ashdod, relying heavily on milk products and employees from that region.
It does not operate any ice-cream stores over the pre-1967 lines.
So the only thing that ties it to the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria, is its sales to individuals or vendors, such as supermarkets and gas stations, which then stock the ice cream on its shelves.

4. Target sales to settlements, not settler products


Ben & Jerry’s actions set a precedent that differs from many past boycotts that have made headlines, which have often focused on products produced in the West Bank or used by the IDF.
The Psagot Winery, located in the Sha’ar Binyamin Industrial Park of the West Bank’s Area C, fought for the right to be labeled “Made in Israel,” even though it was located outside its sovereign territory.
The Israel-based companies SodaStream and Ahava cosmetics ran afoul of BDS because they had factories that were located in West Bank settlements, with SodaStream eventually relocating its Mishor Adumim bottling plant to the South.
Airbnb’s brief boycott focused on the exclusion of properties located in West Bank settlements from its global booking site.
The issue in all cases was to force the businesses to move their production to areas of Israel within the pre-1967 lines.
In the case of Ben & Jerry’s, the issue is to halt sales to the West Bank settlements. 

5. Any Israeli company can be boycotted

The boycott criteria set by Ben & Jerry's, would make any Israeli or foreign company that helps stock a supermarket with those products susceptible to boycotts.
Even the European Union doesn't ban the sale of its products to the settlements.
One need only wander into a grocery store and look at the number of franchise labels based on foreign global companies to understand the gravity of the situation.
Could this happen with Heinz ketchup, Hellmann’s mayonnaise or even the newly important Starbucks coffee that has suddenly graced the supermarket shelves?
Ben & Jerry’s independent board of directors has argued that its intention was to boycott Israel, and that it opposed the decision by Unilever and the Ben & Jerry’s CEO to limit the boycott solely to “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
The difference here is a semantic one at best. The moment one targets companies based inside the Green Line, the boycott is of Israel – not until the company relocates but until the government changes its policy.