Sweet and Spineless: Ben & Jerry's Caves to the Anti-Israel Mob
The announcement that Vermont ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's was terminating its relationship with its longtime Israeli distributor because it sold ice cream on the West Bank may have been nutty, but it was a sign of the times. It was also a feather in the cap of Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, which makes no secret of its desire to eliminate Israel altogether, and which boasts -- understandably -- that it required only 614 anti-Israel emails to Ben & Jerry's CEO in order to get the two old lefties to cave.
The rejoicing, however, was short-lived. First, Ben & Jerry's parent Unilever rejected its subsidiary's demand that it stop doing business with Israel altogether. Unilever's announcement that it was "fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades" was greeted with outrage by Ben & Jerry's board chair, Anuradha Mittal, who accused it of "deceit" for not agreeing to boycott the Jewish state. It then emerged that Mittal, who publicly opposed a congressional resolution condemning antisemitism ("I am not antisemitic," she insists), is the founder of an institute that has repeatedly defended Hezbollah and Hamas.
Nor did it take long for the odor of hypocrisy to attach itself to both Unilever and Ben & Jerry's, an odor that routinely shrouds the Israel boycotters and that opens them up to charges of bias, which -- let's face it -- are not without basis. Unilever is pleased to do business with Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the world's most notorious human rights violators. Do Ben and Jerry criticize their parent company, let alone disassociate themselves from it in any way? You bet your chocolate mocha chip they don't.
As for Ben, Jerry and their team, they opened a store in Malaysia in 2019, the very year our State Department issued a report finding that the Malaysian government was guilty of arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings; restrictions of free expression; rampant interference with freedom of assembly, association and religion; and the criminalization of homosexuality. This did not trouble Ben & Jerry's one lick; it proudly announced on social media that "Malaysia's Top Ben & Jerry's Flavors of 2019" were Strawberry Cheesecake, Half Baked and Sweet Cream and Cookies.
Meanwhile, the efforts by those who hope these boycotts will make Israel disappear continue to fail. Israel's Arab neighbors are normalizing relations with Israel at a pace that no doubt frustrates the boycotters. Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have joined Egypt and Jordan in establishing formal relationships with Israel. Much of the rest of the Arab world engages in economic, diplomatic and security cooperation with Israel off the radar screen.
The mob may be losing, but it is not for lack of intellectual dishonesty. The little matter of how Israel came to occupy the West Bank in the first place -- through defending itself against a Jordanian attack that was part of a multienemy effort to annihilate it -- matters, of course, not at all. Ditto the fact that Israel offered virtually all of the West Bank, all of Gaza and part of East Jerusalem in return for peace: This was rejected by Palestinian leaders, who much preferred the status quo to a two-state solution.
As for the thousands of Hamas rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians over and over, effectively consigning Israelis and Palestinians alike to fear, injury and death, this has not made a single scoop of difference to those who would be hard-pressed to specify the difference between the Gaza Strip and the Louisiana Purchase.
The more those who claim to care about peace give those who reject it a pass, the more remote the prospects for peace become. This is obvious, but evidently not obvious enough. It requires spine to stand up to mindless fashion rather than simply cave in to it. Ben and Jerry are sweet fellows. Courageous they are not.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.