It’s time to boycott Ben & Jerry’s

May 14, 2015

Mark Hage, an activist with Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel, explains the solidarity group's decision to call for further action against the ice cream maker.

IN 2011, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel began a discussion with Ben & Jerry's in South Burlington, Vermont, concerning their long-standing contractual relationship with an Israeli franchise that manufactures ice cream in Israel proper and sells it in Israel settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

These settlements--fortified colonies for Jews only--contravene international law. Ben & Jerry's knows this. It knows, too, that the company's Social Mission and history of supporting progressive causes cannot be reconciled with its franchise's commercial ties to the settlements.

Despite what it knows and the values that define its corporate identity, Ben & Jerry's refuses to stop the Israeli franchise from making money selling in the settlements.

VTJP's thinking on the necessity for a boycott reached a tipping point during Israel's military assault against Gaza in the summer of 2014. 2,200 Palestinians were killed and more than 11,000 wounded. The casualties were overwhelmingly civilians. Because Gaza's morgues could not handle the horrific carnage, bodies of dead children and babies had to be stacked temporarily in ice cream freezers prior to burial.

This picture of Israeli soldiers was featured on the Facebook page of the Ben & Jerry's franchise in Israel
This picture of Israeli soldiers was featured on the Facebook page of the Ben & Jerry's franchise in Israel

While this massacre of innocents was being carried out, Ben & Jerry's "peace & love" ice cream was passing through Israeli checkpoints, being transported on Jewish-only roads, and sold to supermarkets and for catered events in Jewish-only settlements.

IT'S NOW clear that appealing to Ben & Jerry's socially responsible "conscience" alone will not achieve our objectives. Since 2013, the year our campaign went public, thousands of individuals and 239 organizations in 20 countries, including Israel, and from the occupied Palestinian territory, have called on Ben & Jerry's to put an end to its franchise's business in Israeli settlements.

Jeff Furman, chair of Ben & Jerry's board of directors, traveled to Occupied Palestine in 2012 with a group of American civil rights' leaders. He described what he saw there as "apartheid." A Ben & Jerry's delegation traveled to Israel/Palestine in 2014, as VTJP had urged. Participants met with anti-occupation activists and some toured the West Bank. They learned from credible sources and saw with their own eyes the brutal realities of life under military occupation. VTJP also informed the company in 2014 that its franchise may be purchasing equipment from an illegal Israeli enterprise in the occupied [Syrian] Golan Heights.

In spite of all this, the company has refused not only to stop its practices, but to even issue a statement calling for an end to Israel's occupation and settlements. Therefore, a boycott.

The company and its U.S. shop owners received a letter shortly before VTJP's third annual Free Cone Day protests on April 14 informing them of our boycott action. VTJP also announced its boycott call with an original "cantastoria" and video called "No Justice, No Sweets." The Apartheid Adventures media collective, on its own initiative, produced a brilliant satirical video called "Licking Apartheid."

Our boycott call is being disseminated through social and traditional media and the organizational networks of Palestine solidarity and peace groups around the world.

Ben & Jerry's has responded with a brief posting on its website. It's a classic example of "redirection through misdirection," as we pointed out in a rebuttal.

Much organizing work remains to be done, of course. VTJP calls on people of conscience around the world to endorse and join this boycott.

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