Today marks one year since the woke ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s announced that it would no longer sell Vermont’s Finest™ in “the 'occupied' Palestinian territories.” It was an ill-fated and poorly-conceived stunt since it would have denied both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs the pleasures of savoring its creamy caloric goo.
If it really wants to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Ben & Jerry’s should introduce a new line of Palestinian-only ice cream, to be sold throughout Palestinian Arab areas but not Israel.
Many companies adopted woke policies to protect themselves from the scourge of cancel culture in the post-George Floyd world. But Ben & Jerry’s did not need to have an ideology thrust upon it. What would eventually come to be called “corporate wokeness” was a founding principle of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings, Inc. when Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started making ice cream in 1978.
Virtue signaling with environmental, anti-second amendment, “defund the police” rhetoric is one thing, but descending into anti-Israel, terror-forgiving, Zionist-hating activism is quite another. The Ben & Jerry’s foray into anti-Zionism didn’t begin in 1978. It took years. But over the years the left has moved progressively against Israel. Ben & Jerry’s was not immune.
In 2007, when Jeff Furman, President of Ben & Jerry’s Board of Trustees, recruited known anti-Israel activist Anuradha Mittal to join the company, its descent into BDS became almost inevitable. Mittal, who in 2004 founded the Oakland Institute, an anti-Israel think tank, joined the company in 2008. Today she is Vice President of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation Inc. and the Chair of the Board of Directors.
Coincidentally (or not?), soon after Mittal joined Ben & Jerry’s, it became the target of several BDS organizers. Gerald Steinberg’s NGO Monitor has documented how three groups in particular (Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine, U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Jewish Voice for Peace) set their sights on Ben & Jerry’s, similar to how Human Rights Watch, as Eugene Kontorovich put it, “goaded [Airbnb] to adopt a boycott on West Bank rental listings.”
Whether it was acquiescing to the BDS mob or following Mittal’s vision, Ben & Jerry’s announced its boycott of “the Occupied Territories,” on July 19, 2021, and hinted that a full boycott of Israel itself was in the works. But soon, corporate owner Unilever Inc. quashed the attempted boycott and granted Israeli franchisee owner Avi Zinger and his company, American Quality Products, the right to continue selling Ben & Jerry’s products in pre-1967 Israel as well as in disputed territories. In turn, Ben & Jerry’s sued Unilever, complaining that its agreement with Zinger was made without Ben & Jerry’s board of directors’ approval, and pointing out that the sale to Unilever back in 2000 required the British food conglomerate to continue “safeguarding the integrity” of the brand.
Since Ben & Jerry’s brand integrity now requires ostracizing Israel and bringing about its dissolution through a “right of return,” a lawsuit is a fairly pedestrian and unimaginative response from a board of directors that describes itself as “a (very!) independent B.O.D. that’s empowered to protect and defend Ben & Jerry’s brand equity and integrity.”
I suggest the board put its money where its mouth is and show some ingenuity by creating a new line of Ben & Jerry’s branded products designed exclusively for sale to Palestinian Arabs, by Palestinian franchises, throughout all Palestinian Authority territories. The taste maker-activists could then show off their legendary branding creativity selling Intifada Ice Cream™ as "Ben & Jerry’s of Palestine".
Some of Ben & Jerry’s popular woke flavors, like “Change Is Brewing” and “Empower Mint,” might appeal to Palestinian Arab customers, but new ones like “Al-Aqsa Martyrs Marshmallow” and “Resistance Rocky Road” are sure to be hits.
Perhaps a line of Gaza-specific flavors, like “Yassin Toffee Explosion,” and “Nakba Nut Crunch” would do well.
In keeping with the tradition of honoring celebrities with products like “Cherry Garcia” and “Colin Kaepernick’s Change the Whirled,” Ben & Jerry’s of Palestine can offer flavors named for Palestinian heroes and allies, like “Roger Watersmelon,” “Nabih Berry,” and “Vanilla Bean Laden.”
The “very independent” members of Ben & Jerry’s board of directors describe themselves as “mover-shakers and difference-makers who really know their stuff.” I’ll believe that when I hear that Palestinian Authority Arabs are enjoying the silky smoothness of “Terror-Misu” and “Fatah Fudge” – plain & (Ara) fat-free.
A.J. Caschettais a Ginsburg–Milstein fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.