OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

The true tenets of Judaism repudiate, not endorse, BDS

Once Judaism and capitalism are conflated, left and right converge against humanity’s favorite scapegoat.

Jerry Greenfield (left) and Ben Cohen, founders of the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream company, Oct. 24, 2010. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Jerry Greenfield (left) and Ben Cohen, founders of the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream company, Oct. 24, 2010. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Juliana Geran Pilon
Juliana Geran Pilon
Juliana Geran Pilon is a senior fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. Her latest book is An Idea Betrayed: Jews, Liberalism, and the American Left (2023). She has taught at the National Defense University, the Institute of World Politics, American University, St. Mary’s College of Maryland and George Washington University.

The latest publicly promoted smear campaign against Israel by woke capitalists has come from Ben & Jerry’s president Anuradha Mittal on July 19: “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in [a territory whose inhabitants are subject to] an internationally recognized illegal occupation.” Not so fast, writes Israeli Ambassador Alan Baker. Not only is the claim “based on a false premise,” relying on a nonbinding General Assembly resolution, it also runs counter to “the Palestinians’ own wishes and legal obligations in the Oslo Accords.”

Weaponizing ice-cream sounds like a Marx Brothers prank, but it isn’t funny. Like the rest of the BDS movement, it’s crass political posturing. Or what James Sinkinson, president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), has called “an attempt to virtue-signal and appease extremists who do not want to see a State of Israel or care about the security of Israeli citizens.”

B&J’s move is hardly surprising, given the ideology professed by its founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfeld, who, in their July 28 New York Times op-ed profess being “proud of [the company’s pro-BDS] action and believe it is on the right side of history.” In their anything but humble opinion, it is BDS and B&J, rather than Israel, which obviously took history’s wrong turn, and that really advance “the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism.”

When a blatantly anti-Semitic boycott is justified by invoking the “core tenets” of Judaism itself, that’s no longer mere chutzpah.

The pathology runs deep. Jews like the ostentatiously progressive Cohen and Greenfeld are but the latest manifestations of an age-old attempt by many Jews to distance themselves from Judaism by siding with their calumniators. Businessmen are especially sensitive to “[o]ne of the most prominent and persistent stereotypes about Jews,” as described by the Anti-Defamation League, “that they are greedy and avaricious, hoping to make themselves rich by any means.”

The stereotype unfortunately seems never to go away. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) revived it in her infamous slur: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” Her allusion to the $100 bill, bearing Franklin’s portrait, was so blatant that even most Democrats condemned her.

Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin was once scurrilously accused of advocating the exclusion of Jews from the new republic. An alleged verbatim record of the notoriously philo-Semitic Franklin’s remarks at the Constitutional Convention, published in 1934 in the short-lived journal Liberation, has him saying that “[i]n whatever country Jews have settled in any great numbers, they have lowered its moral tone; have depreciated its commercial integrity; … and when opposed have tried to strangle that country to death financially, as in the case of Spain and Portugal.”

Shown later to be a forgery concocted by pro-Nazi journalist William D. Pelley, notes Scott D. Seligman, the phantom quote was nonetheless widely disseminated globally. A German news agency immediately published it in German, French and English. Later reprinted in Switzerland, it was even distributed to investment brokerage houses in New York by an American journalist. Pelley’s inspiration may have been another forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to reveal a global Jewish conspiracy for money and power. Disseminated in 1905 by the Okhrana, the tsarist secret police, and later used with great skill by the Soviet KGB, in 1921 the anti-Semitic pamphlet was revealed as a forgery by The London Times. Despite its crudeness, however, the under-educated, virulently anti-Semitic Henry Ford believed it to be genuine. He had it translated, reprinted and spread throughout the world during the 1920s, with astonishing effectiveness.

It is unsurprising that such egregious, clumsily fabricated lies purporting to prove Jewish avarice and amorality should have been propagated by totalitarian anti-Semites, whether Nazis, Communists, Islamists or other fanatics. But craven Jews desperate to avoid ostracism by making common cause with their enemies, using liberal-sounding words, is no alibi—quite the contrary.

Left-wing anti-Semitism did not start with Karl Marx, as the great historian Robert S. Wistrich has amply demonstrated. Writing in 1843, the first German-Jewish socialist, Moses Hess, identified “the Jewish Jehovah-Moloch,” together with the Christian God, with human sacrifice, capitalistic cannibalism and social parasitism. Marx went one better: In his essay, “On the Jewish Question,” published later that year, this insalubrious descendant of rabbis transformed the centuries-old “lethal obsession” of anti-Semitism into a religion of hate. Couched in mesmerizing dialectical jargon, his claim that “the God of the Jew is money” would provide the most powerful ideological ammunition for both Hitler’s Holocaust and the leftist demonization of the capitalist Jew. Indeed, the practice of linking Jews “with the all-devouring Moloch of Mammon,” observed Wistrich, became increasingly prominent in Socialist writings after 1840. Once Judaism and capitalism are conflated, left and right converge against humanity’s favorite scapegoat.

But at least Marx openly repudiated Judaism since his childhood conversion. By contrast, when ice-cream magnates Cohen and Greenfeld invoke “core tenets of Judaism” to justify policies manifestly dangerous to the survival of Israel and its people throughout the world, the insult they add to injuries the Hebrews have suffered for millennia is a dagger thrust into the people’s heart, including their own. Suicide, however, is no excuse for fratricide.

Thank goodness there are still voices that reveal those core tenets with clarity, compassion, erudition and enthusiasm. In his fascinating new book, The Tree of Life and Prosperity: Ethical, Economic, and Business Principles from Genesis to the 21st Century, the young Israeli-American entrepreneur Michael A. Eisenberg explains his own quest for first principles because he believes “[t]hese are what anchor our lives and constitute our moral conscience. Family, social and moral values are part of the laws of economics.” A simple creed of human decency.

Above all, writes Eisenberg, these principles are rooted in the Torah, which “seeks to model a successful society from both a material and spiritual perspective. That spirituality grounds the ethics that drive success in business.” The biblical wisdom is common sense sanctified by Divine love and true, not bogus, justice.

Businessmen of all denominations are obviously like the rest of us: not purely “rational” economic beings, whatever that means. We all pursue values that are important for reasons conscious and otherwise. Each entrepreneur attempts to satisfy a need, which in turn encourages additional production of whatever succeeds in doing so. Some—in fact, most—of these attempts are likely to fail; but when they hit the mark, the payback can be considerable.

And it definitely helps to be ethical, even if that isn’t immediately obvious to everyone. “Principles are part of all successful business considerations,” argues Eisenberg. Principles “built the economy, the free market, reputations, and long-term wealth, not short-term economic strategies that were greedy and impatient. Principles are part of every product, service, and economic decision, not just an external balance or brake.” He believes that building a successful business is the best way to promote your principles. “This works in the opposite direction as well. Principles, as a component of business, are a competitive advantage, as they are a core component of identity.”

It is quintessentially the message of the Torah. Among those pre-eminent principles is transparency—illustrated, for example, in Zebulun and in Abraham’s encounters with the King of Sodom, and the Hittites who sold him the burial plot, which Eisenberg describes in loving, Talmudic detail. Transparency invariably “stimulates the innovation that increases prosperity, as with Isaac’s well-digging and Joseph’s far-sighted storage of grain.”

And just as today, in biblical times, too, it did not “always go according to plan. Sometimes significant innovation and economic activity and prosperity can lead to unfortunate outcomes such as Joseph’s economic planning that enabled an Egyptian narrative to enslave the people of Israel or Jacob’s economic and ethical tussles with his father-in-law Laban or even modern-day internet innovations that enabled growth in binary options trading, correctly outlawed by the State of Israel in 2017.”

These are the true “tenets of Judaism.” Money and wealth are not considered evil in themselves; the Bible encourages economic success, tempered by supererogatory responsibility. Wealth provides the means to help others, both by satisfying needs through commercial exchange and by charitable donations. Only an anti-Semite would deny that the Torah-based “spiritual and ethical aspiration to build wealth and promote innovation is what creates the possibility of Israel being a light unto nations.” Israel’s enemies would do well to emulate this highly ethical creed based not on hatred but on faith in human ingenuity and cooperation. Aren’t we all created in God’s image?

Juliana Geran Pilon is a senior fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. Her latest book is “The Utopian Conceit and the War on Freedom (2019.)” She has taught at the National Defense University, the Institute of World Politics, American University, St. Mary’s College of Maryland and George Washington University.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates