More than thirty states have passed legislation designed to deter boycotts of Israel by penalizing companies that refuse to do business with the Jewish state, and some supporters of the laws now say they should apply to businesses as well. like ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s who refuse to do business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“Selective boycotts are just as illegal as total boycotts,” said Marc Stern, legal director of the American Jewish Committee, which has pushed for laws to stem the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
“You can’t have your ice cream and eat it too,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said.
The company’s move upsets Jewish Twitter, pro-Israel supporters have flooded the company with takedown requests, and several Jewish markets in New York and elsewhere have decided to ditch the product.
But Jeremy Ben Ami, chairman of the pro-Israel liberal group J Street, said critics are wrong to view Ben & Jerry’s move as a boycott of Israel because the settlements are not part of Israel, and that Calling for economic equality without political equality is an untenable position for the Jewish establishment and pro-Israel organizations.
“Either this is all part of Israel, in which case everyone living in the occupied territory should have the same rights, or there is a distinction,” Ben-Ami said. “You can’t have your ice cream and eat it too. “
Ben & Jerry’s will end sales of our ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Read our full statement: https://t.co/2mGWYGN4GApic.twitter.com/kFeu7aXOf3– Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) July 19, 2021
Stern said several states – including New York, New Jersey and Illinois – go further than most and have laws prohibiting state agencies from contracting with companies that refuse to do business with Israel. or with “territories controlled by Israel”, and prohibiting public pension funds to invest there.
If these laws are enforced in Ben & Jerry’s case, it could have ramifications far beyond whether or not workers can dig into a Cherry Garcia bowl in Albany state cafeterias. The Vermont-based company is owned by Unilever, a London-based multinational corporation with $ 50 billion in revenue from the sale of products such as Hellman mayonnaise, Lipton tea and Dove personal care products.
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, wrote a letter to the governors of the 35 states that have passed some form of anti-boycott legislation, saying that “swift and determined action must be taken to counter such actions. discriminatory and anti-Semitic ”.
But critics grew angry that a boycott of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which are widely considered illegal under international law, amounted to participating in the BDS movement, which effectively calls for an end to Israel’s status. as a Jewish state.
Ben & Jerry’s announcement that it would not renew its license with an Israeli company that manufactures and distributes its products in the West Bank also stated that it would maintain its presence in Israel “by a different arrangement,” a line which apparently has inserted by Unilever without consulting the independent board of directors of Ben & Jerry’s.
More than 30 states in the United States have adopted anti-BDS legislation in recent years. I intend to ask each of them to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s. They will not treat the State of Israel like that without a response. – יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) July 19, 2021
Meera Shah, senior lawyer at Palestine Legal, said the details of the laws meant to suppress the BDS movement were less important than their goal of cracking down on activism targeting Israel. Palestine Legal, an American nonprofit organization, follows and opposes anti-BDS laws.
“Israel and its allies are using anti-boycott laws to smear the advocacy for Palestine, regardless of the actual provisions, applicability or constitutionality of the laws – or the purpose of activism,” Shah wrote. in an email. “Taking on an ice cream company for supporting Palestinian rights shows how desperate Israel and its allies are to avoid accountability for human rights violations. “
The question of whether businesses – or artists, academics and tourists – can distinguish between Israel and the territory it controls in the West Bank is at the heart of recent debates over Israel’s status as a democracy. Over the past year, human rights organizations have increasingly sought to treat Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as a single entity under Israeli government control, with several groups claiming apartheid because the Palestinians from the occupied territories do not have citizenship. A recent poll showed that 25% of American Jews agreed with the claim that “Israel is an apartheid state”.
Supporters of Israel counter that Jews and non-Jews have equal rights in Israel and that the West Bank and Gaza should be seen as separate regions. But for the purposes of economic activity, these distinctions are blurred.
“We would like to see, in terms of the economy, that Arabs and Jews, whether in the West Bank – Judea and Samaria – or in Israel as a whole, are treated the same in the economic sphere”, Michael Dickson said. , the Israeli director of StandWithUs, who said more than 10,000 of his supporters emailed Ben & Jerry’s Tuesday asking him to reconsider his decision.
While Ben & Jerry’s said it would end sales throughout the West Bank – not just Jewish settlements – Stern, along with the American Jewish Committee, said the problem was it was a strategy aimed at blaming only one party to the conflict. . While Palestinians in Ramallah might not be able to afford the ice cream, Israel would bear the financial burden of the decision.
“This is designed to put economic pressure on Israel,” Stern said. “The Palestinians are victims of the road. “
There have been a handful of lawsuits related to anti-BDS laws in states like Arkansas, where the law has been shortened, and Arizona, where a similar measure has been upheld. The latest high-profile case of an American company deciding to shut down West Bank operations came in 2018, when travel rental platform Airbnb decided to remove listings in Jewish settlements. The company ultimately rescinded the ban, but said it would donate the proceeds from rentals in the West Bank to aid organizations.