(August 2, 2021 / JNS) The media coverage of the Ben & Jerry’s controversy has described it as the company’s decision not to sell ice-cream in “the West Bank” or in “Israeli settlements.”
There’s just one problem: Ben & Jerry’s has never used those terms.
Look closely at the official Ben & Jerry’s announcement that ignited the controversy. Notice that the only geographic terms it uses is “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Same for the July 27 tweet by Ben & Jerry’s board chair Anuradha Mittal.
And look at the op-ed in The New York Times by the founders of Ben & Jerry’s—Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield—on July 28. They wrote that the company will “end business in the occupied territories,” and they referred to “the territories Israel occupies.” The words “settlements” and “West Bank” did not appear anywhere in the op-ed, just as they did not appear in the company’s announcement.
That’s not by accident. Announcements and op-eds of this significance are not just dashed off without a thought. The company made a major business decision with millions of dollars at stake. Such statements are crafted by teams of writers and advisers. Every word is carefully chosen. They go through draft after draft before getting final approval.
There’s a reason that Ben & Jerry’s, and its founders, have chosen to refrain from defining where that “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
The reason is Jerusalem.
According to the Palestinian Arabs, as well as the various U.N. resolutions supporting them, “East Jerusalem” is part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Read their statements. Read their resolutions. That’s what they say. That’s what they believe.
Now, notice that the Bennett Cohen-Jerry Greenfield op-ed in the Times acknowledged that they are basing their views on the United Nations. They wrote that the decision “to end business in the occupied territories” was based on the grounds that “a majority of the international community, including the United Nations, has deemed [Israel’s presence] an illegal occupation.”
Well, if the source of their authority is the United Nations, then that means they consider “East Jerusalem” to be “occupied,” too. And therefore, we can assume that they will be refraining from selling their ice-cream there.
What is “East Jerusalem,” exactly? It’s the part of the city that Israel liberated as part of the Six-Day War in June 1967. It includes the walled Old City, where the Jewish Quarter, Western Wall and Temple Mount are located; the adjoining Mount of Olives cemetery, which is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world; mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods such as Shimon HaTzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) and Kfar Shiloah; and the various Arab neighborhoods around the eastern edge of the city.
“East Jerusalem” also includes numerous major Jewish neighborhoods that lie partly, or entirely, beyond the pre-1967 armistice line, such as Ramot, French Hill, Gilo and Ramat Shlomo.
Mittal has made it crystal-clear that she considers eastern Jerusalem “occupied territory.” As recently as July 30, for example, she re-tweeted a statement about “Israeli occupiers” arresting Arab rock-throwers “from Sultan Suleiman Street in J’salem.” Sultan Suleiman Street runs along the walls of the Old City. Part of it is within the pre-1967 armistice line, part of it is beyond. To the chair of the Ben & Jerry’s board, it’s all “occupied.”
So why, in their official announcements, has Ben & Jerry’s been coy about Jerusalem? Because they know what would happen if they said, openly: “Our company is boycotting the Old City, the Western Wall and Temple Mount because we consider it to be Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The volume of protests that Ben & Jerry’s is facing would be ten-fold what it is now. The Gristedes supermarket chain would not be reducing its Ben & Jerry’s shelf space by 30 percent, as they have announced; they would reduce it by 100 percent. Delta would not still be serving Ben & Jerry’s on its flights to Israel; neither would any other airline.
But as long as the company makes it seem as if it’s just targeting “settlements,” a certain segment of the Jewish community will support them. A number of left-wing Jewish groups, including J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Partners for Progressive Israel, have issued statements taking the side of the ice-cream makers.
And some major liberal Jewish groups, such as the Union for Reform Judaism, have not actively joined the protests. Look at the URJ website. Not a word about the Ben & Jerry’s action against Israel.
A divided Jewish community undermines the anti-Ben & Jerry’s protests and makes it more likely that the company will stick to its guns. The backing of Jewish left-wing groups enables Ben & Jerry’s to say, “See? We’re not anti-Semitic. We’re not anti-Israel. Look at these Jewish groups that support us.”
Could an organization such as the Union for Reform Judaism remain on the sidelines if a major American company says it is boycotting the Western Wall? I don’t think so.
It’s time for Ben & Jerry’s, and its left-wing Jewish supporters, to stop playing word games. Stop trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes. Stop pretending that this is an argument over a handful of wild-eyed “settlers” on remote hilltops. This is a fight over boycotting the Western Wall. They know it, and we know it.
Stephen M. Flatow is an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”
Jewish News Syndicate
With geographic, political and social divides growing wider, high-quality reporting and informed analysis are more important than ever to keep people connected.
Our ability to cover the most important issues in Israel and throughout the Jewish world—without the standard media bias—depends on the support of committed readers.
If you appreciate the value of our news service and recognize how JNS stands out among the competition, please click on the link and make a one-time or monthly contribution.
We appreciate your support.