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Ben & Jerry's West Bank ice cream ban becomes a hot topic in Israel

Officials slammed the ice cream maker's announcement that it is going to stop selling in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory.
A laborer works at the Ben and Jerry's factory in Be'er Tuvia, Israel, on July 20, 2021.
A laborer works at the Ben and Jerry's factory in Be'er Tuvia, Israel, on Tuesday.Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

Ice cream has become a hot topic in Israel.

Israeli officials have slammed Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, accusing it of branding itself as anti-Israeli.

“The boycott of Israel ... reflects a complete loss of way,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote Monday on Twitter.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the decision a “shameful surrender to antisemitism.” A TikTok of Economics Minister Orna Barbivay throwing a carton of Ben & Jerry’s into the trash was shared online.

Image: Ben & Jerry's
A refrigerator bearing the Ben & Jerry's logo at a food store in the Jewish settlement of Efrat on Tuesday. The decision to stop doing business in the occupied Palestinian territory was embraced by the BDS movement, which said it was a "decisive step towards ending the company's complicity in Israel's occupation."Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

More than just words and symbolic gestures, Israel is also already flexing its diplomatic muscles against the move. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, tweeted that he’d written to 35 governors of U.S. states that have legislation against the boycott of Israel, calling on them to impose sanctions against Ben & Jerry’s.

“We view this decision very severely as it is the de-facto adoption of anti-Semitic practices and advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the de-humanization of the Jewish people,” he wrote in the letter, according to a photo he posted on Twitter.

Ben & Jerry's and its parent company Unilever did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Israel takes a tough stand against people or organizations seen to support the pro-Palestinian BDS movement, which supports boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli institutions and businesses.

The movement says it aims to economically and politically pressure Israel to comply with international law and works to end international support for Israel's oppression of the Palestinians.

But Israeli officials say the movement is antisemitic and seeks to delegitimize or even destroy the country. Under Israeli law, supporters of the movement can be denied entry to Israel.

Ben & Jerry's did not say in its statement that it supported BDS, but its decision was widely seen by Israel watchers and some Jewish groups as a win for the movement.

It is not the first time a company has tried to stop doing business in the occupied territories. In 2018, Airbnb announced that it would stop advertising properties in Israeli settlements. Several months later, after coming under harsh criticism from Israel and a federal lawsuit by Israeli Americans who owned property in the settlements, the company reversed its decision.

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It remains unclear whether Israeli pressure will yield the same result with Ben & Jerry's.

Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian politician, described Erdan's decision to write to 35 U.S. governors as "Israeli arrogance."

"Chutzpah + hasbara + entitlement + impunity," she tweeted.

That Israeli lawmakers framed Ben & Jerry’s decision as a boycott of Israel itself will be welcomed by Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

These territories were captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel treats the two areas separately, considering east Jerusalem as part of its capital and the West Bank as disputed territory whose fate should be resolved in negotiations. Most of the international community, however, considers both areas to be occupied territory and settlements there to be illegal under international law.

Nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the two areas — about 440,000 in the occupied West Bank and 220,000 in east Jerusalem, according to Peace Now, an Israeli organization that advocates for an independent Palestinian state.

Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop doing business in the occupied Palestinian territory was embraced by the BDS movement, which described it as a “decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights.”

Not all Israeli lawmakers condemned the decision.

Aida Touma-Sliman, an Israeli lawmaker with the Joint List of Arab parties, wrote on Twitter that Ben & Jerry’s decision was “just and moral” and that the occupied Palestinian territories are not part of Israel.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, tweeted a picture of himself digging into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s along with the caption: “The diet was going well until now.”