Mark Hage: Ben & Jerry’s, end your silence on Israel’s occupation

Editor’s note: Mark Hage is a member of Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel. He lives in Montpelier.

For 50 days this summer, Israel savagely bombarded and invaded Gaza. It fired some 700 tons of ordinance – roughly 2 tons per square kilometer of Gaza – and killed over 2,100 Palestinians, including 500 children. Thousands of homes were destroyed, and 17 of 32 hospitals were damaged.

As Gaza burned, Israeli settlements expanded in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Jewish settlers continued to enjoy the illicit fruits of their colonial lifestyle, including Ben & Jerry’s “peace & love” ice cream.

Eighteen months ago, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel  urged Ben & Jerry’s to end its Israeli franchise’s commercial ties with illegal Jewish settlements.

Our campaign has been embraced by activists in Palestine, 32 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and 17 nations, including Israel. There is an enthusiastic market for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but no appetite for its franchise’s sales to Israeli settlements.

The company insists its franchise is powerless to determine the destination of its ice cream after it’s purchased by distributors and supermarket chains. This has been impossible to independently verify.

Even if true, though, Ben & Jerry’s could use its contractual leverage to require the franchise to expand its fleet of trucks and to deliver products to venues only in Israel proper.

It could elect as well to suspend business operations in Israel until the occupation ends, or sell the franchise to its licensee, Avi Zinger, and insist that “Ben & Jerry’s,” along with its characteristic graphics, be excluded from the new company’s name and products.

Let’s also not forget that Ben & Jerry’s corporate identity is anchored to a social mission that calls for non-exploitative business practices, protection of the environment and vulnerable communities, and opposition to injustice. There is nothing socially responsible about marketing and selling to Israeli settlers, who routinely steal and colonize Palestinian land and terrorize the indigenous population.

2014 Campaign Developments

The flow of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Jewish settlements has not stopped because the company does not want it to. That’s a problem we and our allies will keep working to overcome, and it will take time. Just the same, our campaign has generated unanticipated revelations and potentially promising developments inside the company.

If Ben & Jerry’s cannot, as it claims, stop sales in Jewish settlements, and will not close or sell the franchise at this time, there is no reason it cannot take a public position demanding an end to the crimes and cruelty of the occupation.

 

We learned last spring from Israeli compatriots about a possible business relationship between Ben & Jerry’s franchise in Israel and Beth-El Machinery Ltd., a company with production facilities in the occupied (Syrian) Golan Heights and a subsidiary of Beth-El Industries. The latter conglomerate has close ties to Israel’s military industries and West Bank settlements. Ben & Jerry’s refused to confirm or deny this new allegation.

On a positive note, company officials took important steps this year to educate themselves about the occupation. This included sending a delegation of executives and board directors to Palestine in late winter. Participants, we understand, learned about the harsh realities of Palestinian life and the destructive impact of Jewish settlements. This is not the first time individuals employed by Ben & Jerry’s or serving in governance have traveled to the occupied territories. Unfortunately, the company has yet to express their reactions to those experiences.

In 2014, the company reiterated that it would allocate 100 percent of the royalties earned from its Israeli franchise on initiatives, as yet undefined, that promote peace in Israel-Palestine. More significantly, it will expand business links with Canaan Free Trade, a respected Palestinian organization with an effective and courageous record of supporting Palestinian farmers.

Sadly, though, when delineating these commitments in a letter, the company avoided using the words “settlements” or “occupation.” Ben & Jerry’s management has consistently steered clear of overt references to Jewish settlements and military occupation in written statements to us, preferring instead to speak of the “suffering” on “both sides.”

Ben & Jerry’s, Break Your Silence!

There are indeed two sides to this conflict. One is a nation of occupiers, the other an oppressed people under occupation. This has been the root cause of suffering in Israel and Occupied Palestine for nearly 50 years.

Speaking out on this, as well as on the illegality and destructiveness of Israel’s settlement enterprise, is a critical step that Ben & Jerry’s must take. It is certainly in its power to do, and, consistent with its business ethics, something it should feel compelled to do.

If Ben & Jerry’s cannot, as it claims, stop sales in Jewish settlements, and will not close or sell the franchise at this time, there is no reason it cannot take a public position demanding an end to the crimes and cruelty of the occupation. Such a statement, coming from this iconic company, might have significant impact on the larger socially responsible business community and on American public opinion.

Ben & Jerry’s has seen what is at the end of its franchise’s ice cream spoon in Palestine. VTJP, therefore, urges the company to issue a statement calling on Israel to end its military occupation and settlements, and to pursue a just peace based on international law.

Ben & Jerry’s, say the words: End the Occupation, Stop the Settlements, Bring Justice to Palestine.

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  • Ice cream?! The personal envoy of Mahmoud Abbas goes to Iran in August and says “Israel’s annihilation has just begun and the new generation in Iran will certainly witness our victory over Israel,” and you think ice cream is relevant to the conversation about peace?

    This mindset illustrates the decadence of the blindly pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel position. **Peace will come when the people firing rockets into Israel stop firing rockets into Israel.** No other country in the world is expected to let this kind of terrorism pass without retaliation. Is there anything that the Palestinians could do to Israel that their supporters in the West would not defend?

    As Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN: “Israel was using missiles to protect its children; Hamas was using its children to protect its missiles.”

  • Yes, ice cream, per se, is trivial in the big picture. But the contradiction between B&J’s behavior with respect to the occupied territories and its otherwise well-fulfilled mission statement typifies much liberal thinking — “PEP”, “progressive except for Palestine.”

    Drawing attention to the B&J situation helps give Vermonters a window on the ongoing, daily suffering of the entire, non-missile-firing Palestinian population living under a cruel, and ever more brutal occupation.

    Israel is becoming a pariah state because of that occupation, and Jews and Judaism also suffer from the toxicity of Israeli government and lawless settler behavior. If we see rising antisemitism, Israel’s behavior is certainly not helping the situation.

    We don’t tend to think much about what’s going on over there and its effect on the world situation. But the B&J issue can remind people — not just on Church St. or in Vermont, but worldwide, at scoop shops and supermarkets — that Israeli and other occupations are out there to be dealt with. Even if it’s “just” about ice cream.

  • kathy shapiro

    No, criticism of Ben & Jerry’s is not just about ice cream. It’s about making people in Vermont aware of the ever-widening system of apartheid in the Occupied Territory (which includes Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights). It’s about raising awareness of the passbook system of permits, identity cards, permissions and checkpoints that must be crossed to visit a hospital or to go to school, daily humiliations required of all Palestinians. It’s about denial of permission to marry someone who lives on the other side of a checkpoint and a dual legal system that allows for the bulldozing of only Palestinian homes for lack of permits denied to their owners, but granted to newly minted American citizens of Israel. The board of directors of Ben & Jerry’s is well aware of these issues, and yet refuses to take even the smallest action – making a statement against the illegal occupation. For that reason there’s no more Ben & Jerry’s in my freezer.

    • Jon Corrigan

      Somehow I find it extremely difficult to give two hoots about the Palestinians and their predicament. I can’t seem to forget the pictures of them dancing and cheering in the streets on 9/11. They all had a choice and they chose wrong – even their Arab ‘brothers’ won’t lift a finger to help them unless it’s providing explosives to blow something else up.

      • Danny Weiss

        The notion that Palestinians were dancing and cheering in response to the 9/11 attacks has long been debunked. CNN, it was revealed, created this falsehood, and then retracted it. You can easily research this to confirm on your own, or read about it here:
        Anatomy of an Urban Legend: How the bogus notion that CNN’s footage of Palestinians celebrating the September 11 attacks was actually a decade old took root on the Internet.
        http://ajrarchive.org/Article.asp?id=2377

        However, there really were some Middle Eastern men who were witnessed dancing and celebrating after the FIRST PLANE crashed into the WTC North Tower. They were arrested in New Jersey after setting up a video camera to capture the event. Now, you may be thinking, how could these men have known to record the FIRST plane striking, unless, of course, they had advanced knowledge of the attack? This is the case of the 5 Dancing Israelis. You can research this on your own. Many news articles/videos have commented about this, or you can read about it here:
        http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/fiveisraelis.html

        Regardless of the above citations that set the record straight as to who was celebrating 9/11, the point is that it is reprehensible that Ben and Jerry’s is not taking a moral and ethical stand against the brutal and illegal occupation of the West Bank, that includes inhabitants of illegal Israeli settlements who terrorize the native Palestinians. You can easily research this fact, as well on your own, or check out these links here:

        http://mondoweiss.net/2014/10/settlers-terrorize-palestinian

        http://www.dci-palestine.org/documents/extremist-israeli-settlers-yitzhar-terrorize-palestinian-villages

        • Jon Corrigan

          Next you’ll tell me the news today was all false too – with the Pali-animals handing out candy and dancing in the streets after the synagogue massacre. You, Danny, can easily research this fact and get back to us.

  • Stephen Fitzpatrick

    Best solution, may be to repeat the past, we do it all the time. Find a contenous piece of land, perferably, that is thought essential to our (U.S.) interests. Eastern Ukraine may be a start, Somalia, Yemen, so many places exist. Have the UN declare it a “the New Palestine?” a homeland for the Palestinian people, they have no home, under current excepted policy they are a conquered people, by the chosen people. To encourage their “exodus” to the new land we can offer a finacial stipen drawn from the billions in U.S. aid we presently fund Israel with.
    Addressing the symptoms can only marginally cure the problem.

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