Israel’s war on (‘anti-Semitic’) ice cream

Israel is waging a frontal attack against ice cream – and it is losing.

A man buys Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Jerusalem on July 20, 2021 [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

Israel is going through a surrealistic summer meltdown over yummy ice cream.

Its leaders have launched a chilling assault on Ben & Jerry’s, the world-famous American brand, after the company decided to boycott its illegal settlement in occupied Palestine earlier this month.

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennet condemned the “anti-Semitic” decision, and his foreign minister, Yair Lapid, labeled it a “shameful surrender to anti-Semitism”.

Three quarter of Israel’s parliament members demanded the company retract its “shameful act”. Even the presumably moderate president, Isaac Herzog, joined the hyperbole, calling the measure a “new kind of terrorism” against Israel.

Worse, the government has ordered its diplomats to mobilise Jewish organisations, implicating Jewish communities around the world in the fight against a progressive ice cream company, merely to ensure no other dares do the same.

And perhaps more cynically, it has used the ice cream hoopla to help derail pressure from its “Pegasus scandal”, following revelations that the Israeli tech company sold advanced surveillance technology to unsavoury regimes to help them spy on journalists, human rights activists, opposition leaders, and even Western leaders.

No wonder the Israeli government decided to take this “grave” matter directly to the United States, insisting that the various state legislators cream Ben & Jerry’s into submission.

Texas and Florida are already on it, but as the joke goes, it’s doubtful they will find ice cream un-cone-stitutional.

Basically, Israel is asking Americans to boycott and punish an iconic American company for not selling ice cream to an overseas criminal colonial enterprise.

Such unmatched arrogance and muscle flexing in the US, coupled with implicating the American Jewish community in its illegal policies, may well lead to a terrible backlash by Americans insisting on exercising their constitutional, including First Amendment, rights.

Israel may be powerful, with a great political and military arsenal at its disposal, but as any kid who watched the cartoon series “Tom & Jerry” will tell you, it will surely lose this cat and mouse battle against ice cream.

Meanwhile, all the yapping and screaming have rattled Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s Anglo-Dutch mother company, but there is little it could do about the decision of its autonomous subsidiary.

The proud Jewish founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, responded to the controversy in a New York Times article this week. Cool & chilled, they voiced their support for the company’s decision, underlined their long support for Israel hand in hand with their opposition to its illegal settlements – a position which they insist is in line with Jewish values and official US policy.

They also made clear that neither they nor the company support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which aims for the end of the Israeli occupation.

Why? Well, because the BDS campaign focuses on boycotting Israel as a whole, not only its illegal settlements, and supports the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. And also, because its campaign is modelled on the successful struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Many, Jews and others, including those who oppose the occupation, reject these positions.

But that’s ok because boycott, like ice cream, may come in different flavours.

The “ice cream you scream” custardy debate has since gone online, highlighting the promise and peril of boycotting Israel.

The Palestinians seem generally pleased with the boycott, and rather baffled by all the brouhaha about denying settlers a brand of ice cream; settlers whom they see as mostly violent criminals or as thieves of their land and water.

But Ben & Jerry’s sanguine decision may prove to be strategic. By enticing more and more American Jews and other Westerners to join the boycott against Israel’s settlements, they are helping increase the necessary pressure on Israel to cease its illegal activities.

Although those who reject Israel’s justifications for its prolonged occupation of Palestine or its efforts to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism are still a minority in the West, their numbers are rapidly growing.

According to a poll that came out this week, 34 percent of the Jewish American respondents said that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is similar to racism in the US, while an additional 30 percent said it was not similar, but that saying so is not anti-Semitic.

Many also reject the “whataboutism” argument every time Israeli colonialism is denounced: What about China and Syria etc?

As a matter of fact, the US and other Western powers are imposing sanctions on China, Russia and a plethora of countries for their human rights violations, while rewarding Israel with billions of dollars annually despite Its persistent violations of basic Palestinian human rights.

But while Israel has succeeded in winning, neutralising or sidelining various Western and other governments around the world, Western public opinion is shifting against the Israeli occupation and in favour of Palestinian rights.

This was evident in Israel losing the recent “hashtag war” over ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and yet another war on Gaza last June.

It is an important shift, because without public pressure, there is little chance that Western powers will take a principled and effective political position on ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

If its record is anything to go by, Ben & Jerry’s progressive politics have proven a win-win for the company as it has expanded into some 5,000 stores worldwide.

It says it wants to be on the right side of history, telling its customers to “give a fudge”, as it embraces such causes as Climate Change and Occupy Wall Street.

Today, it is once again putting its ice cream where its mouth is, standing for a free Palestine at the cost of leaving the Israel establishment in the cold.