BDS-flavored ice cream

Recently Ben & Jerry’s made headlines by announcing it would not sell its ice cream in West Bank settlements. This has ignited a healthy debate over the issue of the Occupation. It is still unclear how the company’s announcement will affect the contract with its Israeli plant, or its NASDAQ shares, and whether this move will eventually lead to the termination of its operations in Israel. What is clear is that the Israeli issue arouses strong emotions throughout the United States, and probably also among Trump-hating ice cream connoisseurs.

We don’t know how much the American public knows about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is certain that it knows enough to identify Trump with Netanyahu, Netanyahu with the Occupation, and the Occupation with the settlements. If the “social” ice cream stands with the tens of millions opposing Trump, this is a sign that it has a healthy sense of smell for business. Ben & Jerry’s is an ice cream powerhouse, recognized in 37 countries. Its revenues last year totaled $860 million, and it holds the second-largest market share in the giant UK and American ice-cream markets.

The Ben & Jerry’s business model is so successful that its parent company, Unilever, agreed to sign a clause allowing its board of directors freedom of decision on issues of a “social” nature. It turns out that Unilever also has a well-developed sense of smell for business, otherwise it would not have acquired Ben & Jerry’s as early as the year 2000. Just as Ben & Jerry’s is an ice cream powerhouse, so Unilever is a global food powerhouse, employing 180,000 worldwide. It is in fact an oligopoly: one of the ten international companies that monopolistically control the global food market. In letting itself be bought, while “preserving its social character,” Ben & Jerry’s in fact sold its soul to the devil, joining Unilever’s predatory capitalist machine.

Wearing its social cap, Ben & Jerrys at first intended to boycott Israel entirely while adopting the position of the BDS movement. Its official announcement, limiting the boycott to West Bank settlements, stemmed from a compromise with Unilever. The latter, which also operates in Israel, employs 2500 Israeli workers here; it controls dozens of companies in food and cosmetics, such as Strauss ice cream and Thelma. Unilever was not about to shoot itself in the foot, so Ben & Jerry’s position eventually came out tasting “half tea, half coffee.”

Half tea, half coffee is also the position of the Zionist Left, which today, for example, projects the illusion of a future, vague “political process” like a fig leaf over its participation in the Bennett-Lapid government, continuing to sell us two-state solution. MK Michal Rosin (Meretz) appeared on the program “Six o’clock with Oded Ben Ami” to defend the Ben & Jerry’s boycott of the settlements while sparing their creator, Israel. For this purpose, she harked back to the decision of the Netanyahu government to sign a “Horizon 2020 agreement with the European Union, which excludes settlements from any investments that are made through the plan.” Therefore, Rosin argued, the one who harms the State of Israel is “the one who conflates people who oppose selling in the settlements with people who oppose selling in Israel.” Meretz and the EU continue to promote the two-state solution, even though in practice they do nothing to advance it, as evidenced by Meretz’s participation in the Bennett-Lapid coalition.

Comparing Ben & Jerry’s with the European Union is like comparing ice cream and gazpacho. Both are cold, but that sums up the similarity. The EU, like Israel, is formally committed to the Oslo Accords, which do nothing about the settlements, leaving them as a bone of contention.

Ben & Jerry’s is another story altogether. First, it is a business venture and not a political one, and there is no diplomatic connection between it and the State of Israel. It is not committed to a two-state solution or any solution. It is simply protesting the Occupation by boycotting the settlements. Moreover, the July 22 headline of Yedioth Aharonot, “The Anti-Israel Brain Behind the Ice Cream Boycott,” leaves no room for doubt. Beside the headline was a picture of the chairperson of the company’s board, Anuradha Mittal, with several of her Tweets. Ms. Mittal adopts the BDS principle of boycotting not just the settlements but Israel as a whole, including Israelis who fight for justice toward the Palestinians.

Despite Michal Rosin’s claims, the decision to boycott settlements does not stem from support for a “Jewish and democratic” Israel, but from an aversion to the apartheid regime. Therefore, without getting into political gibberish designed to market the two-state program (which has long since disappeared from the political agenda), we may ask where BDS is heading. This is a legitimate question for any political activist operating against the Occupation, whether the action takes place in Israel and or the Occupied Territories. On this issue, BDS is silent. It wants to emulate what was done to South Africa, that is, to boycott Israel until apartheid collapses, without offering a political alternative. The solution in South Africa was “one man one vote.” Of this we hear nothing from BDS.

The so-called Palestinian equivalent of the South African ANC is the PLO, which ended its historic role when it signed the Oslo Accords and agreed to autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, thus perpetuating the settlements, whose fate remains outside the agreement.

In fact, the number of settlers more than doubled after Oslo, but this did not stop the Palestinian Authority from continuing its cooperation with Israel in all areas, including security. Thus we are witnessing an absurd situation: while BDS is calling for a boycott of Israel, it is not calling for a boycott of the Palestinian Authority that cooperates with it. It is convenient for BDS to skip over reality, over the PA, and attack Israel, which, by the way, maintains overt or covert diplomatic relations with most Arab countries.

Before boycotting or taking any action to oppose the Occupation and the settlements, the right thing to do is to determine the political alternative to the Occupation and thus delineate the path of struggle. We agree with most of the BDS movement that the two-state solution is no longer viable. We also agree that Israel maintains apartheid in the Territories, and discriminates against Arab citizens within Israel. We also agree that action must be taken to change this reality. But at this point the question arises: What is the solution?

Here, the Da’am Party bids boycotts goodbye. Da’am advocates one democratic state between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River for all who live there, Jews and Palestinians. To achieve this goal, we oppose the boycott of the Palestinians by the Israeli Right, and we equally oppose the boycott of Israelis, which is what BDS and many Palestinians do in the name of rejecting “normalization.” The solution will not take place through mutual cancellation, but through constant cooperation and dialogue between democratic forces on both sides.

We look to the progressive movement in the United States, which advocates racial equality and multiculturalism, upholds democracy against autocracy, condemns blind nationalism and white supremacy, and favors climate and social justice. This movement can play an important role in bringing Israeli and Palestinian democratic forces together for the construction of a common future. Boycotting Israel and Israelis will not do this. Ben & Jerrys’ position has the good effect of reviving the issue of the Occupation, but it tastes too much of BDS.

About Yacov Ben Efrat