Working to champion and protect the State of Israel as a safe and secure homeland for the Jewish people, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) routinely informs its members about current events of interest. And, as an advocacy group, ZOA calls on its team of attorneys to initiate legal processes where warranted as part of its mission of promoting fair treatment for Israel, Israelis, and pro-Israel voices in the United States.
Countering a misguided boycott
One of the prominent issues ZOA addressed in 2021 was the boycott of Judea and Samaria and the eastern part of Jerusalem initiated by Ben & Jerry’s. After the world-famous ice cream company announced in July that it would no longer do business in what it termed “occupied Palestinian territory,” ZOA attorneys representing certain shareholders of Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever PLC demanded that Unilever’s board of directors rescind their subsidiary’s action.
In the letter, the ZOA legal team argued that the ice cream maker’s decision was patently antisemitic and discriminatory. Ben & Jerry’s refusal to sell its products to the 800,000 Jews now living in currently disputed parts of the land of Israel—which Israel conquered in its 1967 Six-Day War of self-defense against aggression from its neighbors—amounts to a de facto boycott of the entire nation.
Contributing to the demonization of Israel
To single out these locations for boycott is, in effect, to publicly endorse the falsehoods that Israel illegally occupies the territory that it legally regained under international laws of war, that it “stole” these lands from the Palestinian people, and that the nation of Israel is somehow an “illegal” or “colonialist” regime. Each of these canards is false according to the documentation in the historical record, yet they have gained widespread currency among influential anti-Israel and antisemitic groups around the world.
The historical reality
As ZOA and numerous scholars have pointed out, East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria are known as places where King David, King Solomon, Judah Maccabee, and numerous other Jewish kings and heroes fought, governed, lived, and died. These lands include some of the most memorable and sacred sites in the collective memory of the Jewish people. East Jerusalem, for example, is the site of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, iconic places in the millennia-long identity of Jews all over the world. In addition, 20th-century treaties and international agreements have guaranteed these areas to the Jewish people.
A moral duty to oppose hatred
The ZOA letter continued that, should Unilever fail in its fiduciary duty to its shareholders and in its moral duty to avoid business decisions based on antisemitism, bigotry, and hatred, it would likely experience irreparable harm, both to its reputation and bottom line. Already, state governments in the US, supermarket chains, politicians, and other influential individuals and organizations have chosen to cease doing business with either Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever.
Seventy-five percent of the members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, signed an open letter to Unilever urging the company to backtrack on the “shameful” and “immoral” decision. These members made the central point later laid out in the ZOA attorneys’ letter: that antisemitism lies at the core of the Ben & Jerry’s boycott. Israel’s current foreign minister, Yair Lapid, traditionally known for his left-of-center positions on issues involving the Palestinians, said the boycott represented a “shameless surrender to antisemitism.”
Ironically, both of Ben & Jerry’s namesake founders are Jewish.
An unforced error
Ben & Jerry’s, based in Vermont, is known for its whimsically named flavors like “Cherry Garcia,” “Chunky Monkey,” and “Minter Wonderland,” as well as for its long-time advocacy of left-of-center causes. After the 2021 flare-up of violence at the Israeli border with Gaza, which is under the rule of the terror group Hamas, Ben & Jerry’s remained publicly silent on its social media channels, only to suddenly announce the boycott.
Once announced, the boycott played to mixed reviews. Even as pro-Israel voices pointed out the discriminatory invalidation of the Jewish and Israeli experience, many on the pro-Palestinian left felt that Ben & Jerry’s didn’t go far enough in isolating the Jewish state. Meanwhile, left-leaning American Jewish organizations such as J Street and the New Israel Fund stated that they did not find the boycott antisemitic. These groups pointed out that Ben & Jerry’s has only boycotted “occupied” territories, saying that these lands, in the words of the New Israel Fund’s leadership, do not constitute “sovereign Israel.”
Bad for everyone’s health
The more centrist Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spoke up against Ben & Jerry’s actions. The ADL specifically notes that it is possible to disagree with the policies of the Israeli government without supporting “dangerous” campaigns driven by an ideology that only results in the delegitimizing of Israel.
The ADL’s point bears elaborating: By emboldening the enemies of Israel as an independent Jewish state, the Ben & Jerry’s boycott is producing repercussions against Jews in the US, who were already under threat from extremist antisemites.
ZOA leadership summed up its position at the start of the controversy by not only calling for a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s products in return but by adding that the ice cream brand had become “bad for your moral and physical health.”