Responding to Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
On July 28th, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, published an op-ed in The New York Times. They stated that they remain supporters of Israel, but oppose some of its policies and agree with, “the decision of the company to end business in the occupied territories.” While the founders no longer have control over Ben & Jerry’s, they expressed pride in its actions.
My organization, StandWithUs, agrees that, “it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies.” However, there are inaccuracies and omissions in the op-ed which require a response to correct the record.
First, some context: Ben & Jerry’s is owned by an international corporation called Unilever, but partially controlled by an independent board responsible for protecting the company’s “brand integrity” and pursuing its “social mission.” Based on publicly available information, it is the independent board that decided to cut ties with Ben & Jerry’s factory and licensee in Israel at the end of 2022.
In their article, Cohen and Greenfield refer to the company’s initial statement, committing to stop ice cream sales in “occupied Palestinian territory,” while continuing to do business in Israel.
However, they do not mention that the Ben & Jerry’s independent board has not committed to selling in Israel at all going forward. The board chair, Anuradha Mittal, said that Unilever added the language about remaining in Israel without getting consent from the board. As such, it is not at all clear that Ben & Jerry’s truly intends to keep doing business in the Jewish state.
What is clear is that the company is planning to cut ties with its factory and licensee in southern Israel, located between Tel Aviv and Gaza. According to Avi Zinger, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Israel, this is because he rejected a demand to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem — an area which includes the Jewish people’s holiest sites, like the Western Wall.
In essence, Ben & Jerry’s is saying that any company based in Israel should be shut down if it also sells to people in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Because the economies of Israel and the West Bank are deeply intertwined, this approach would target countless Israeli and international businesses, amounting to a near total boycott aimed at crippling the Jewish state. It’s also potentially illegal for any Israeli company to work with Ben & Jerry’s under these conditions. In practice, going through with this decision is very likely to result in Ben & Jerry’s boycotting all of Israel.
As a result, 160 Israeli workers of all backgrounds, including Jews and Arabs, may lose their jobs in 2022 or before. Palestinians working at an Israeli distribution company in the West Bank may lose their jobs as well. Cohen and Greenfield ignore the harm that Ben & Jerry’s is causing to these workers and their families, as well as the broader context mentioned above.
Their op-ed also promotes a major factual inaccuracy, stating that, “Israeli policy … perpetuates an illegal occupation.” While reasonable people in Israel and around the world can and do criticize Israel’s policies in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, its control over these territories is absolutely not “illegal.”
The West Bank and eastern Jerusalem were unlawfully seized by Jordan in 1948 and illegally occupied until 1967, when Israel pushed Jordan out in self-defense. Writing about the 1967 war during which Israel took control of these areas, former International Court of Justice Vice-President Stephen Schwebel stated that “Israel reacted defensively against the threat and use of force against her by her Arab neighbors.” He also wrote that, “a State acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self-defense.”
In 1993, Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to an international treaty called the Oslo Accords, which stipulated that Israel will fully control eastern Jerusalem and 60% of the West Bank until the two parties negotiate a final peace deal. Israel has repeatedly agreed to leave the vast majority of these territories in return for peace, but Palestinian leaders have rejected every Israeli offer. As such, Israel’s control is entirely legal under international treaties, and continues primarily because of decisions made by the Palestinian leadership. Cohen and Greenfield do Israelis, Palestinians, and their readers a disservice by spreading misinformation and omitting crucial context about eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Finally, the article says that Ben & Jerry’s statement, “did not endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement.” But it neglects to mention that the company’s independent board chair, Ms. Mittal, has explicitly promoted BDS and implied that Israel’s existence is a “catastrophe.” Nor does it acknowledge that Ben & Jerry’s decision came after a wave of pressure from BDS extremists who hate Israel and don’t want it to exist in any territory. In fact, the loudest campaign targeting the company and celebrating this move calls the location of their Israeli factory a “settlement,” when it is clearly in an internationally-recognized part of Israel.
It is especially telling that the global BDS movement officially celebrated the decision. They are using it to further promote their destructive agenda, aimed at strangling Israel economically and politically.
While Cohen and Greenfield may truly support Israel and oppose BDS, the actions of the company they founded have undoubtedly contributed to this global campaign of hate. Unfortunately, this is true whether it was their intention or not.