Former Ben & Jerry’s Employee Details Efforts to Sway Company on Israel Decision
An ex-employee of Ben & Jerry’s who left the company after it announced that it was ending sales in the West Bank elaborated on her efforts to dissuade the ice cream maker from boycotting Israel.
For 21 years, graphic designer Susannah Levin worked exclusively as a contractor for the ice cream company in their design department. She told StandWithUs during a virtual event on Sunday that when the company went silent on social media during the Israel-Hamas conflict in May, she began asking questions at work and was granted permission by the public relations department to listen to a company meeting on the subject, where she learned that Ben & Jerry’s was considering divesting from the West Bank.
The idea faced no “resistance” from those in the meeting, Levin, who has family in Israel, told StandWithUs International CEO Roz Rothstein.
“I decided there and then that if they were truly going to make a move that followed a BDS strategy, then of course I would have to quit,” she said. “For me it was a job, it was a good job, but I’m confident I can find another. I just decided that my job means nothing now. So while I’m still in the company, I’m going to use my position to speak to people who are the decision-makers.”
Levin informed superiors that she would quit if the company moved forward with boycotting Israel, and created a document responding to claims made by the BDS movement — presenting it to a company executive, who appeared unmoved.
“I told the person, ‘one cannot rely on BDS for information because they have an agenda that’s very skewed,'” Levin shared. She said the executive replied that Ben & Jerry’s does not believe in the BDS campaign, but that its decision was based on findings by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch.
Levin was granted a meeting with another company executive, and made her case for 40 minutes. “At that point I was really prepared,” she said. “I had good information. And this person was very gracious.”
“I came up with an alternate plan. I told them what happened to our motto: ‘peace love and ice cream,'” she recounted. “We have that written under the name of the company on all the scoop shops. I thought let’s work on those themes. If you wanna really effectuate a meaningful response, something that might actually promote peace, then we should return to those roots. Let’s actually work for peace.”
Levin suggested alternatives to ending sales in the West Bank, such as supporting a grassroots organization that promotes peace and coexistence, or backing Israeli and Palestinian educational organizations fighting hatred and incitement. She also proposed opening a partner shop in Ramallah and Jewish West Bank areas for both Palestinians and Israelis, or to drive a scoop shop into an Arab town. Levin said, “Ice cream makes people happy. That’s what an ice cream company should be about.”
Not long after, on July 19, Ben & Jerry’s publicly announced that it would no longer sell its products in the West Bank.
“I initially saw it and my stomach sank,” said Levin. “I knew of course I was going to quit. There was just no question. I was upset, it’s a loss. I have good friends, good work and income, but I had no choice.” She announced in mid-July on Facebook that she was leaving the company and told StandWithUs that she was overwhelmed by the support she has received.
“People are calling me a hero. I’m just a Jew. I’m a person with some integrity,” she said. “I decided to start speaking up because it really wasn’t that hard, and I want people to know that other Jews or other people who care deeply for the Jewish people, you can speak up. I don’t know if I effected change within the company, I can’t tell. But maybe I had an effect. At least I know that they heard something from the other side.”