(JTA) — Kosher supermarkets are rethinking their inventory. Politicians are emptying their freezers. And the foreign minister of Israel is vowing to get involved in local US politics.
The reactions were all part of the firestorm that quirky ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s set off Monday morning with its announcement that it would no longer sell ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
The Vermont-based company, founded by two Jews and long known for its left-leaning politics, had gone dark on social media for two months since the recent outbreak of violence in Israel and Gaza. The announcement broke that silence, simultaneously infuriating Israel advocates who said the decision was an unfair attack on Israel and disappointing pro-Palestinian advocates who said the company should have gone farther.
Israeli politicians, supermarkets in the US, various pundits and even Ben & Jerry’s current Israeli licensee went after the ice cream maker and its corporate parent, the British multinational Unilever, for its statement. (The company’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, no longer manage the brand but have often used their frozen treats to push social justice causes.)
Here are some of the reactions to the company’s freezing out of its business relations in Israel.
Israeli politicians go on the offensive
Reactions from Israel’s leaders were harsh. Despite the distinctions, Ben & Jerry’s made in its statement between Israel and the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a longtime supporter of the settlements, called the decision a “boycott of Israel” and said Ben and Jerry’s “decided to brand itself as an anti-Israel ice cream.” His predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted, “Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the architect of the current ruling coalition who is generally to Bennett’s left regarding the Palestinians, went even further, calling the decision a “shameful surrender to antisemitism, to BDS and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.” He called on US states to take domestic action against Ben and Jerry’s based on state laws that prohibit government contracting with entities that boycott Israel.
Israeli cabinet minister Orna Barbivay posted a TikTok video of her throwing a pint in the trash; the flavor she tossed could not be determined at press time.
Other Israeli public figures appeared to compare the ice cream company’s settlement boycott to terrorism. Eran Cicurel, an editor at Israel’s public broadcaster, tweeted that the color scheme on Ben & Jerry’s statement was similar to that of the flag of the terror group Hamas.
Amichai Chikli, a right-wing lawmaker in Israel’s Knesset, tweeted, “Ben & Jerry’s You picked the wrong side” and posted an infamous photo from 2000 of a Palestinian who had just killed two Israeli soldiers displaying his hands through a window, covered in the soldiers’ blood.
In American responses, a mirror for Israel sentiment
American Jewish groups offered varied responses to the company’s scoop that mapped to their political orientation.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning Israel advocacy group J Street, said that Ben & Jerry’s was drawing “a principled and rational distinction between commercial transactions in the State of Israel & those in the territory it occupies,” and said the term “antisemitism” didn’t apply to the company’s actions.
Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the left-wing New Israel Fund, said that Ben & Jerry’s was not being antisemitic in exiting “occupied Palestinian territory” because “these lands are not sovereign Israel.”
“Attacking people who try and distinguish between sovereign and non-sovereign Israel by calling them antisemitic is to evade a matter of fact, abuse the meaning of ‘antisemitism’ and ultimately gaslight those who would try and work towards a future of equality and justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Sokatch said in a statement.
The Anti-Defamation League, a centrist group, said it was “disappointed” by the move, adding, “You can disagree with policies without feeding into dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel” but refraining from calling for specific actions.
And the right-wing Zionist Organization of America called for a boycott of the ice cream, proclaiming that Ben & Jerry’s is “bad for your moral and physical health.” The call was echoed by others such as the Jewish conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who said he would stop eating the brand.
Kosher food purveyors consider practical changes
Glatt Express Supermarket, a kosher grocery store in Teaneck, New Jersey, announced via Facebook that it would no longer carry Ben & Jerry’s products following the company’s announcement.
“Due to the recent actions by Ben & Jerry’s, Glatt Express will no longer be carrying Ben and Jerry’s products. Am Yisroel Chai,” the store wrote in a post.
Aron’s Kissena Farms, a kosher market in Queens, made the same decision. The market “has removed all of the Ben & Jerry’s products in the Freezers, and will no longer sell any and all Ben & Jerry products effective immediately,” the store wrote on Facebook. “Aron’s Kissena Farms stands with the state of Israel .”
Glatt Express did not immediately respond to a request for comment; nor did Morton Williams, the New York-based grocery chain whose co-owner, Avi Kaner, also tweeted at Ben & Jerry’s on Monday. His 16-store chain would be meeting to discuss “ending sales of your ice cream in our supermarket chain,” Kaner wrote.
Access to Ben & Jerry’s could be constrained another way: A few figures in the American Jewish right wing also began a social media push to convince kosher certifier KOF-K to remove Ben & Jerry’s kosher certification.
Ben & Jerry’s critics say they are not satisfied
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, an activist group based in Ben & Jerry’s home state that has been leading a years-long campaign against the ice-cream makers for doing business in Israel at all, said the move didn’t go far enough.
“By maintaining a presence in Israel, Ben & Jerry’s continues to be complicit in the killing, imprisonment and dispossession of Palestinian people and the flaunting of international law,” the group’s president, Kathy Shapiro, said in a statement. A related group, Occupy Burlington, had been a driving force behind the most recent social-media push against Ben & Jerry’s.
Meanwhile, CodePink, an international left-wing women’s group, praised the decision for showing that pressure works. But the group also said the company should do more.
“Ben & Jerry’s included in the statement that they will be remaining in Israel,” Danaka Katovich, a Middle East campaign coordinator for CodePink, said in a statement. “I hope Ben & Jerry’s continues to listen to Palestinians and their demands moving forward and will recognize that Israel’s system of apartheid exists not only in the Occupied Territories but from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean sea.
The Israeli Ben & Jerry’s licensee explains its side
The Israeli licensee of Ben & Jerry’s, which operates a factory in the town of Be’er Tuvia, took to social media hours after the announcement to denounce the American corporation and its parent company.
The Israeli distributor called on Israeli consumers to continue purchasing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, saying that the hundreds of local workers who manufacture it need their support.
In a recorded video, CEO Avi Zinger said he had been notified earlier Monday morning that the company would not be renewing his license when it expires at the end of 2022.
“They did this because we would not agree to stop selling ice cream in all parts of Israel,” Zinger said, stopping short of specifying the distinction between Israel proper and the country’s settlements in the West Bank.
“The reason they did that is because of BDS pressure,” Zinger continued. “We are not surrendering and it’s important that you support us. I ask you all to stand by us, help us fight because our fight is everyone’s fight.”
In happier times for Ben & Jerry’s-Israel relations, the company had made a concentrated outreach to its customer base with original, Israel-exclusive flavors, including charoset and “Matzah Crunch” — both certified kosher for Passover.