Ben & Jerry decision stopping selling ice in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories could be a crucial moment in the campaign against the Israeli apartheid system, say Palestinian rights defenders.
The U.S.-based ice maker, known for its creative, big flavors and its progressive social positions, is already facing a coup d’état from the Israeli government and rabbinical organizations around the world. .
Will Ben & Jerry’s, and its parent company Unilever, resist the pressure and maintain its starting position, or will they be forced to dig? The demands will be a carefully watched political and legal battle as Palestinian activists press American companies to boycott Israel.
“Ben and Jerry made a very courageous decision, and a risky decision,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC.
“It’s really significant to look at the calculation. Companies don’t usually do things like that. It was a big deal, ”Zogby told Al Jazeera.
But Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive, Thursday away himself from Ben & Jerry’s decision, telling investors “that Unilever remains fully engaged in our business in Israel.”
Jope, however, pointed out that Unilever, when it bought the ice company in 2000, agreed to allow Ben & Jerry and his independent counsel to continue their social justice activities.
The Israeli government is now threatening to enforce controversial laws against the boycott that pro-Israel defenders have won in more than 30 U.S. states to try to punish the iceberg for its decision.
If Israel fails to criminalize Ben & Jerry’s actions, it is likely to set a crucial precedent as the world increasingly sees Israel as an apartheid state subject to boycotts like South Africa in the 1980s.
“It’s becoming a political struggle,” Zogby said. “It will be a big test to see if Ben and Jerry can escape or not.”
Ben & Jerry announced its decision on July 19, saying in a statement posted on its website that continued sales in the occupied Palestinian territories are “inconsistent with our values” and acknowledges “the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners ”.
Ben & Jerry’s has said it intends to stay in Israel, but not establishments that are widely considered illegal under international law, even if Israel disputes that.
The Israeli government reaction it was fast. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett telephoned the CEO of Unilever and warned of “serious consequences”. Israel will move “aggressively against any boycott,” Bennett said.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has posted a tweet threatening to invoke anti-boycott laws in the United States to take forced action against the ice maker.
More than 30 states in the United States have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent years. I plan to ask each of them to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s. They will not treat the State of Israel like that without an answer.
– Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) July 19, 2021
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, followed suit on July 20 by announcing that he had sent letters requesting action against Ben & Jerry’s to the governors of 35 U.S. states seeking to reverse the decision. of the company due to economic pressure.
“We see this decision very severely as being the de facto adoption of anti-Semitic practices and the advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the dehumanization of the Jewish people,” Erdan said in the letter.
In the United States, dozens of states and localities have passed so-called anti-BDS laws – a reference to the pro-Palestinian movement of Boycott, Cession, Sanctions (BDS).
Laws vary from state to state, but generally seek to empower local governments to prohibit or cancel contracts with companies – such as Ben & Jerry’s – that come out in support of the boycott, sanctions, or cession by Israel. .
Many of these anti-boycott laws have been deemed unconstitutional by the courts as a violation of the right to freedom of expression, which is protected by U.S. and state constitutions.
“It is disturbing that we have foreign officials here who are trying to ruin American lawmakers to reclaim one of our country’s most respected constitutional rights, to suppress growing dissent against Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights,” he said. Amira Mattar, a lawyer with Palestine Legal, which tracks anti-BDS legislation in the United States.
“With public scrutiny comes action, and Ben & Jerry’s decision shows that companies are listening and when they take a position, shake up Israel’s lobby,” Mattar told Al Jazeera.
“It’s not a surprise.” Ben & Jerry’s is under tremendous pressure and I am sure there are calls to back its support for Palestinian rights, ”he said.
In 2019, the online accommodation service Airbnb, under fierce legal and political pressure from Israel and its supporters, overturned the decision to evict properties in Israeli establishments.
Biden against BDS, Congress divided
The official position of the US government and the Biden administration is to oppose any movement to boycott Israel.
“We strongly reject the BDS movement, which unfairly distinguishes Israel,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters this week.
In the U.S. Senate, a couple of bipartisan senators have reintroduced anti-BDS legislation that has failed to gain sufficient support in the past.
“The boycott, stripping and sanctions movement is the single most destructive campaign of the economic war facing the Jewish state of Israel today,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in June.
The bill seeks to challenge the decisions of courts that override state laws by trying to give states the right to prevent commercial transactions with participants in the BDS movement. Courts in Texas, Maryland, Arkansas and Georgia have overturned anti-BDS state laws.
BDS gains momentum
Ben & Jerry’s move gives more credence to the global BDS movement and the problem will complicate Bennett’s next visit to the United States in August, Palestinian defenders say.
“What has become clear is that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid,” said Huida Arraf, a Palestinian-American activist and lawyer.
A United Nations list of more than 100 companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a “warning to them of their complicity,” he told Al Jazeera.
On July 21, the Black Life Movement joined the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and the Adalah Justice Project to publish a joint statement in support of Ben & Jerry’s decision.
Israel’s anti-BDS fight against Ben & Jerry’s will be able to “recover,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
“A lot of activists are working on campaigns across the country that run various corporations and have taken notice,” Abuznaid told Al Jazeera.