Commentary

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.

[F]or 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.


Commentary

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