Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel began an urgent dialogue with Ben & Jerry’s in 2011 over its franchise in Israel, which shares its name and social mission, and manufactures ice cream inside Israel.
But that ice cream, we discovered, is sold not only in Israel, but in illegal, Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In 2013, VTJP launched an international campaign calling on Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling in these settlements. Thousands of individuals and more than 250 organizations in 20 countries, including Israel, have also urged Ben & Jerry’s to terminate this unethical commerce. The company has refused.
In 2015, VTJP called for a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s.
A little history…
Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever, a multinational corporation. But company executives in South Burlington informed us that Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont — not Unilever — is solely responsible for the contract with the Israeli franchise.
In 2012, a VTJP activist living in East Jerusalem documented conclusively that Ben & Jerry’s franchise was selling its “peace & love” ice cream and catering private events in Israeli settlements.
There is a detailed report on our website about Ben & Jerry’s complicity with Israel’s occupation, plus links to our communications with the company. The latter includes a letter in 2014 alleging, based on reliable intelligence from an Israeli source, that Ben & Jerry’s franchise may be buying equipment from an Israeli manufacturing firm based in an illegal settlement in the occupied (Syrian) Golan Heights. The company will neither confirm nor deny this.
What does Ben & Jerry’s say about all this?
Executive management stands behind Avi Zinger, their Israeli licensee, and sees no contradiction between his business dealings in the unlawful settlements and the company’s social mission.
Privately, however, the company told us they had secured a commitment from Mr. Zinger to cease catering in the settlements, but they could not go public with that information for fear it would create serious problems for their business partner.
Ben & Jerry’s also told us emphatically that it is not making money from commerce in Israeli settlements – or even from the franchise itself – and that 100% of the franchise’s net licensing fees would be devoted to projects that promote reconciliation and multiculturalism in the region. The company, in a web posting, says it seeks to be a “voice of moderation that builds a sensible approach to multicultural understanding and thriving communities.”
It did not elaborate, though, on how that goal can be achieved in territories under military occupation and siege, where 600,000 Jews are living, in contravention of international law, in fortified, racially exclusive colonies on expropriated Palestinian land.
Refusing to Take Responsibility
Ben & Jerry’s says its Israeli ice cream is purchased and transported to the oPt by retailers and third-party distributors. Once the ice cream leaves its factory, the company asserts, it does not control where it ends up.
Long story short, Ben & Jerry’s will not…
- stop the sale of ice cream in Israeli settlements by exercising its contractual leverage, or by assuming total responsibility for the distribution of ice cream in Israel and the oPt;
- sell the franchise to its licensee (or other another party) and demand the name be changed;
- suspend its business operations in Israel until the occupation ends.
It has even declined to issue a public statement calling for an end to Israel’s occupation and settlement regime.
Progressive Except for Palestine
Ben & Jerry’s is well aware of Israeli violence and repression, land confiscations, discriminatory laws, and water theft in the oPt.
Jeff Furman, chairperson of the company’s Board of Directors, traveled to Occupied Palestine in 2012 with a group of American civil rights’ leaders. He characterized what he saw there as “apartheid.”
At VTJP’s urging, a Ben & Jerry’s delegation of management and Board directors visited Israel/Palestine in 2014. They saw with their own eyes the brutal realities of life under military occupation and settler colonialism, and met with anti-occupation and BDS activists.
Upon their return, Ben & Jerry’s announced it would increase support for Canaan Fair Trade (CFT), a Palestinian enterprise that markets agricultural goods produced by farmers and cooperatives under occupation.
But it would not stop its franchise from selling in the settlements.
CFT is an important and courageous organization. But the settlements that buy and sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and the forces of occupation that defend them, present a clear existential threat to Palestinian farmers, their lands and water, their families and communities. The company can best help these farmers in the long term not only by expanding their fair-trade sourcing opportunities, but by severing its franchise’s ties to the settlements, and by ending its own inexcusable silence on the occupation’s injustice and inhumanity.
VTJP can see no way to compel Ben & Jerry’s to do the right thing after five years of critical engagement, international condemnation, and protest without intensifying the pressure of our boycott campaign.
Please support this boycott, and visit our website to lean how you can help end Ben & Jerry’s complicity with Israel’s occupation.
Mark Hage is an activist with Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel, and can be contacted at [email protected].