Ben & Jerry's: Kashrut made political - editorial

The Kof-K kosher certification agency is seriously considering not renewing Ben & Jerry’s kashrut certificate because of their West Bank boycott.

Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Illustrative) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Illustrative)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Kof-K kosher certification agency – based in the United States – is seriously considering not renewing Ben & Jerry’s kashrut certificate if the global ice cream company makes good on its plan to boycott West Bank settlements.

“We have told Ben & Jerry’s that we do not know if we will be able to renew our contract,” Rabbi Daniel Senter, chief operating officer of Kof-K, which provides Kosher international certification, told The Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff on Thursday.

Senter went on to explain that the kashrut company cannot take away existing certification since the ice cream company has not done anything with the production of the ice cream that would necessitate such a move. What it is considering is not renewing the certification once the current contract ends next year.

Why? Due to Ben & Jerry’s terrible decision to stop selling its ice cream in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The parent company Unilever announced earlier this year that it will not renew the production license it has been granting an Israeli manufacturer for decades.

We have written in the past about Ben & Jerry’s decision, how it is foolish and stinks of a double standard. The Vermont-based brand’s decision was upsetting because it was filled with hypocrisy. The move was meant to signal that the ice cream company cares about human rights, but when Ben Cohen – one of the co-founders – was asked by an Axios reporter why the company didn’t boycott other problematic states, he simply shrugged and said it was an interesting question. This is not a person who cares about human rights. This is a person who cares about singling out Israel.

KASHRUT CERTIFICATION at a Jerusalem eatery (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)KASHRUT CERTIFICATION at a Jerusalem eatery (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Senter explained that his company also feels it has a social mission, but in this case it is a Jewish one.

“Our entire business is the Jewish community,” Senter said. The best interest of the Kof-K, in this case, “reflects what is in the best interest of Israel and the Jewish community.”

Nevertheless, we do not agree with Kof-K’s decision to possibly not renew the kosher certification of the ice-cream maker. This also involves a potential double standard that will undermine the kashrut industry by embroiling it in politics as opposed to food standards.

Where would Kof-K draw the line? If it stops working with Ben & Jerry’s, what will happen when another food manufacturer does something unethical? Take, for example, a company whose management embezzles money and strips its workers of their pensions. That is a form of stealing, one of the Ten Commandments. Would Kof-K stop working with that company?

And what about a company that is found to pollute the environment? Would Kof-K stop certifying their kosher products?

This is a slippery slope that will probably cause more damage to the food and kashrut industry than good.

We agree with Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, who heads the Ethics Center at the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in Israel, who said that while he is opposed to the Ben & Jerry’s boycott, he is also against looking at the issuance of a kashrut certificate from any other lens than that of the legal requirement under Jewish law.

“Once you start to take off kashrut certification for different reasons, you do not know where you will stop,” Cherlow told Lazaroff. “In principle, there is nothing that does not have limits. Maybe boycotting Israel is crossing that line.”

Kashrut should remain an issue with clear guidelines and rules that stays away and out of politics. There are other ways to fight boycotts that do not involve politicizing something like kashrut certification that doesn’t have to be a political issue.

This is no way meant to protect Ben & Jerry’s, whose actions are not only harmful to advancing peace and stability – BDS emboldens extremists – but also an illustration of hypocrisy that sadly the company has refused to rectify.

Companies can of course decide with whom they want to do business. This includes places of business like Kof-K. But kashrut as a religious service should remain apolitical. Making it a political tool will not benefit religion. It will only harm it.