Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has had a factory in Israel for decades.
Additionally, they’ve had their own stores in Israel and have been selling their treat in stores throughout the country.
And this week the company announced that they will no longer sell in the West Bank.
Their rationale for this out-of-the-blue proclamation is that Israel is an “occupying” nation and, in essence, they want no part of the Jewish State.
Lovers of Israel were shocked, actually, “aghast,” would probably be the better descriptor. The internet lit up with reactions and responses. One high end grocer said that they will reduce their orders and place the Ben & Jerry’s that remained in his stores in a less desirable part of the freezer
While the grocer is contractually still obligated to carry the ice cream and some of his patrons are loyal to Ben & Jerry’s, he wanted his customers and his fellow grocers to know that what Ben & Jerry’s did was wrong.
Memes were flowing.
Some were bitingly humorous. One was for a new Ben and Jerry’s flavor called “AntiSeMint made with real BDS.”
Once privately owned, and renowned as much for its desire to be socially responsible as well as the purveyors of delicious ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream was bought by Unilever in 2000.
By some quirk, this large company agreed to allow Ben & Jerry’s to maintain its own independent board.
A special board to deal with social issues.
It is that board which decided to stop selling ice cream to Israelis and, by extension, to Palestinians living in the West Bank; also known as Judea and Samaria.
With that decision, Ben and Jerry’s, and by extension Unilever, subscribed to the BDS boycott. BDS stands for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel, not against other countries — just against Israel.
Boycotts are illegal in the United States.
States may not participate in boycotts. And almost 35 states have enacted laws preventing their state from doing business, making investments or assisting companies that boycott Israel and support the BDS movement.
Here is one example of those laws, from Illinois – passed in 2015.
The language is very simple and very clear and it reads: “‘Boycott Israel’ means engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.”
That is the exact definition of the decision made by Ben and Jerry’s.
Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever should pay the price for their mistake — and it looks as if they will. Texas and Florida are already investigating how they can divest from Unilever and how to do so ASAP.
Certainly, no future contacts can be renewed.
This is serious money.
Losing states like The Lone Star State and The Sunshine State will hurt Unilever where it hurts: in their pocketbooks and their bottom line.
This is not just about ice cream and revenue.
Every institution and every other place in the state receiving state money will need to withdraw their involvement with Ben & Jerry’s — and Unilever.
The State of Texas pension plan, for example, controls several billion dollars.
A portion of that money is in fact invested in Unliver.
They will have to divest immediately.
That will hurt the bottom line of the corporation and the corporation may have to rein in Ben & Jerry’s.
That is how you answer BDS.
On Thursday, Unilever CEO Alan Jope distanced the company from the announcement made by the Ben & Jerry’s board, and did so by saying that the global consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel.
While that may sound good, Jope actually avoided giving any indication that Unilever would force Ben & Jerry’s to roll back its controversial decision.
Furthermore, in a conference call with investors, Jope emphasized that Ben & Jerry’s, with its long history of social activism, had made the decision on its own.
For Jerusalem this is not an issue that will melt away and disappear.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Jope personally.
Bennett purportedly told Jope, in no uncertain terms, that this decision is discrimination against Israelis. According to the statement released by the prime minister’s office, Bennett said that Israel is taking a “very serious view of the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to boycott Israel.”
The Israeli prime minister explained to the Unilever CEO that Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry’s was taking a “clearly anti-Israeli step.”
He stressed that Israel sees the measure as having “serious legal and other implications” and added that the Jewish state “will act vigorously against any act of boycott directed against its citizens.”
BDS has been very effective at spreading its message.
The movement has been particularly good at swaying young people and at scaring entertainers and performers into submission.
But — BDS does not realize that states are not permitted to boycott.
BDS did not realize, or perhaps does not care, that states cannot send tax dollars to or support boycotts or organizations or companies that boycott.
That is a form of discrimination.
There cannot be state-sponsored discrimination.
And that’s because friends of Israel, were successful in drafting and passing new laws defining exactly what BDS is doing and making certain that it’s covered in anti-boycotting laws.
Ben & Jerry’s is delicious ice cream. But it’s not the only delicious ice cream out there.
Even if it were, lovers of Israel would stop buying and eating it.
Many already have.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded “The Micah Report” and hosts “Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern” a weekly TV program and “My Chopp” a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern’s