New York Times Publishes Two Defenses of a ‘Shameful Surrender to Antisemitism’
The New York Times has been cheering on the decision by the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its product in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and in other Jerusalem neighborhoods and commuter suburbs that a Ben and Jerry’s statement ahistorically and inaccurately describes as “the Occupied Palestinian Terrority.”
The Times took the unusual step of publishing two opinion pieces in a row, both cheering on the decision. The first piece, which also appeared in print, was by Mairav Zonszein. The second was by Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the brand’s founders and namesakes.
This seems like a bit much, even for the Times. For one thing, the two pieces, while on the same side of the issue, flatly contradict each other. The Zonszein article describes it as a “divestment story (inaccurately characterized as a boycott).” Usually, divestment means a pension fund or an investor like an endowment sells off stock in a company that does business in Israel. That doesn’t seem to be what is happening here. The Cohen and Greenfield article says, “The decision to halt sales outside Israel’s democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel. The Ben & Jerry’s statement did not endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.” One Times article says it’s divestment; the other Times article says it isn’t.
The Zonszein article, in particular, is riddled with logical flaws, double standards, and factual errors. She faults an Israeli company for “selling highly controversial technology to authoritarian regimes,” yet the Times has been advocating for Iran to have nuclear reactors, and until it was called out on the practice by Freedom House, the Times was accepting paid advertising from communist China. Zonszein refers to Israel’s “internationally recognized 1948 borders” without specifying what those borders are and without noting that even those borders are not recognized in any meaningful sense by terrorist organizations like Hamas that reject Israel’s right to exist and by many BDS advocates who demand a “right of return” for Arabs to all of Israel.
So what’s the attraction? I have a theory. Times readers and probably some editors want to give themselves permission to boycott Israeli Jews without acknowledging that it’s antisemitic to do so. This is a tough circle to square, because, after all, both the elected government of Israel and the mainstream American Jewish leadership reject Ben & Jerry’s action. Analogies to other persecuted minority groups may help explain what an awkward situation it is: imagine the Times turning over space to a corporate executive to explain why his company is going to stop selling its product in a Black neighborhood, or a gay neighborhood, even though the organizations set up to protect those groups are protesting and say the decision is discriminatory. Most Israelis, and most American Jews who have any familiarity with the issue, understand that the Jewish quarter of the Old City is not being surrendered by Israel anytime soon, and rightfully so. They may be open to eventual compromise on other parts of the West Bank, but they aren’t eager to have it turn into a terrorist-state-missile-and-rocket-launching-pad the way that Gaza did after Israel withdrew.
Neither Ben nor Jerry nor Mairav Zonszein explain how refusing to sell ice cream to some Israelis or to West Bank Palestinians is going to advance peace. What they do instead is drench themselves in self-congratulation. Ben and Jerry talk about “justice and human rights,” while Zonszein talks about “international norms.” Zonszein has written elsewhere, “As an Israeli and a Jew, I do not challenge Israel’s right to exist, but I do challenge its right to exist as the Jewish supremacist, undemocratic, violent state that it is. That does not make me an antisemite, and neither does solidarity with the call for BDS.” Likewise, Ben and Jerry write in the Times that they are “proud Jews” and “that we support the company’s decision is not a contradiction nor is it antisemitic.”
Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid said, “Ben & Jerry’s decision represents shameful surrender to antisemitism, to BDS, and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations describes the decision as discriminatory. The announcement comes amid a surge of antisemitic violence in America — a stabbing outside a Jewish school, attacks on synagogues — which the Times has egregiously downplayed. Instead of condemning the decision for what it is — hateful bias — the Times has given a platform to those who excuse it. When the New York Times op-ed page is telling you that boycotting Israelis is an act of justice, and the Israeli foreign minister is telling you that the action is a shameful surrender to antisemitism — well, who are you going to believe?
Ira Stoll was managing editor of the Forward and North American editor of the Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.