The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement won a partial victory against Israeli settler-colonialism when Ben & Jerry’s announced July 19 it would no longer sell ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
There are around 700,000 Israeli settlers occupying East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The decision by Ben & Jerry’s marks one of the first divestments from the occupied territories by a major corporate brand.
Even though the divestment will not fully take effect until the end of next year, and Ben & Jerry’s plans to continue sales inside the Israeli “green line”, the partial divestment has been interpreted by the Israeli government as a body blow.
The divestment clearly demonstrates the strength and political power of the BDS movement. The BDS National Committee said, “We warmly welcome their decision but call on Ben & Jerry’s to end all operations in apartheid Israel.”
Divestment due to mass pressure
While the company’s statement says, “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” it adds, “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”
The divestment from the OPT by Ben & Jerry’s is not simply as an act of corporate goodwill. Activists and organizers have targeted campaigns at Ben & Jerry’s specifically and criticized the company’s inconsistency in claiming to support the Black Lives Matter movement while ignoring racism and apartheid in historic Palestine.
The Adalah Justice Project, a Palestinian advocacy organization based in the U.S., tweeted, “This BDS win is because of our people power. Thank you Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, Movement for Black Lives, and all the organizers behind this win.” They continued, “Our demand remains a complete disengagement from all dealings with apartheid Israel.”
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine has been pressuring Ben & Jerry’s to leave occupied Palestine for several years. Vermont is the home state of the company. VTJP said of the divestment, “This is a decisive step toward ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violation of Palestinian rights. Predictably, Ben & Jerry’s is now being vilified by Israel’s leaders and threatened by them with legal and political reprisal.”
A blow to the Israeli government
The responses by a string of the highest of Israeli government officials indicate that the apartheid regime sees this divestment as a major blow and a dangerous precedent. The Electronic Intifada has called these extreme reactions over an ice cream company a “meltdown.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett promised to meet Ben & Jerry’s with a retaliation that has “serious consequences” and claimed that, “Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as the anti-Israeli ice cream.” Former Israeli head of state Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid, a coalition partner in the current Israeli regime, took to Twitter to denounce the ice cream company. Netanyahu said Israelis should boycott Ben & Jerry’s. Lapid said he plans to pressure U.S. states that have passed unconstitutional anti-BDS laws to enforce them. Gilad Eran, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. sent a letter to 35 U.S. state governments calling for “rapid and determined action” to counter the ice cream company’s divestment.
The right wing frenzy in Israel has crossed the line into total absurdity. Orna Barbivai, the Israeli Economy Minister, released a video where she dramatically takes a container of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream out of her freezer and throws it in the trash. Right wing former mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat tweeted, “Jews have the right to eat ice cream anywhere in the world, particularly in the land of our forefathers.”
Dwindling support for Israeli apartheid
Support for BDS and Palestinian liberation is increasing around the world, including within the U.S. Jewish community. A recent poll commissioned by the Jewish Electoral Institute found that 25% of Jewish people in the U.S. agree that “Israel is an apartheid state,” 34% feel that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is comparable to racism in the U.S., and 22% agree that “Israel is committing genocide.”
These shifts in mass consciousness regarding the struggle for Palestinian liberation come after Israel’s attacks on Palestinians in all of the territories it occupies and controls in May, including the bombing of Gaza, exposed Israeli apartheid for all to see. More people than ever in the U.S. and around the globe support demands for equal, democratic rights for Palestinian people and full self-determination, including the right to return to and reclaim their historic homeland.
One of the best ways to give this support is to support BDS, which is clearly having an effect. Click here to learn more about and become involved with the BDS movement.