Town and county officials in Nassau reacted swiftly to the news that Ben & Jerry’s would no longer be sold in the Israeli-occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem as of 2023.
Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said he had directed every department and commissioner to make sure that not only was the town not selling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream but any other product of the company that owns Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever Corp.
This covers 400 brands, including Dove soap, Lipton tea, Breyers ice cream, Klondike Bars and Hellman’s mayonnaise.
Hempstead officials said their actions followed legislation approved in 2016 prohibiting the town from doing business with any company boycotting Israel in what is known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS movement.
The BDS movement calls for countries, businesses and universities to sever ties with Israel unless it ends its occupation of all land captured in 1967, grants “full equality” to Palestinian refugees and assures the right of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants who have been displaced in wars that led to the establishment of Israel.
Many Israelis and the nation’s supporters say that the movement is based on antisemitism and its real goal is the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.
“Ben & Jerry’s’ decision to stop the sale of their ice cream in parts of Israel is disappointing and unacceptable,” said Deputy Presiding Officer Howard Kopel, a Republican county legislator. The county like many other states and municipalities passed law prohibiting them from doing business with supporters of BDS.
“The move made by Ben & Jerry’s, along with its parent company Unilever, is meant to further divide people,” Kopel later added.
Democrat Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she was “disappointed by Ben & Jerry’s decision to align itself with the anti-Israel BDS movement, which unfairly and dangerously singles out the world’s only Jewish state.”
Democrat North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth sounded a similar note.
“It is incumbent upon all of us to join together in solidarity and resilience against intolerance and bigotry,” Bosworth said. “North Hempstead’s anti-BDS legislation ensures that taxpayer money is never used to do business with or support any company that engages in a boycott of Israel.
The full-throated support of Israel by town and county officials of both parties is welcomed.
Jews have endured centuries of hate and violence and many in Nassau County have endured the horrors of the Holocaust or heard firsthand accounts from friends and family members.
So their words and intent to avoid the terrors of the past are important.
But their words, no matter their intention, do raise several questions.
For one, the officials appear to be claiming that the occupied territories are part of Israel. They are not.
The occupied territories are just that — occupied territories subject to the jurisdiction of Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the division of responsibilities overlapping in much of the territory.
Peace efforts supported by the United Nations and the United States, at least until the Trump administration, have called for the occupied territories to be the basis of a Palestinian state.
Israel would need to annex the territories to make them part of Israel – a violation of international law.
The founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Merrick natives Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, decided to pull out of the occupied territories – not Israel.
Ben and Jerry’s made it clear that it intended to continue to sell ice cream in Israel.
Does that actually constitute a boycott of Israel as claimed by Clavin? Requiring that a municipality not do business with Ben & Jerry’s as well as 400 other brands?
Does that actually align Ben & Jerry’s with the “anti-Israel BDS movement,” as Curran said, or constitute “intolerance and bigotry” as claimed by Bosworth?
We’re not so sure.
The focus of Ben & Jerry’s pullout is Israel’s actions in the occupied territories.
Israel, which began its occupation in 1967, has frequently been criticized for its handling of the territories, especially the construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Presidents from George H. Bush to Barack Obama criticized the settlements as an obstacle for a two-state solution seen as necessary to maintain a democratic Jewish state.
Discussion for a two-state solution under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of President Trump, virtually came to a standstill and the number of settlements grew quickly.
In some cases, Palestinians were forced from their homes to make way for settlements.
The heated response of Nassau officials to the decision by ice cream makers to stop selling in the occupied territories begs the question: Do they support a two-state solution in Israel?
If so, is it so wrong for a business to promote a two-state solution with a boycott? Just as the municipalities have expressed their opposition to Ben & Jerry’s action with a boycott of their own?
The founders of Ben & Jerry’s are known for their political activism on behalf of social justice in this country, including Black Lives Matter.
And the company’s stated reason is that the sale of ice cream in the occupied territory was “inconsistent with our values.”
If the officials oppose Ben & Jerry’s protest of the status quo, they should explain how they would broker peace between the two sides 54 years after the occupation began.
Or, if the officials believe that the best answer for Israel and the Palestinians is a one-state solution, then they should be prepared to spell out just how that would work.
Would they be OK if Israel ceased to be a Jewish state or a democratic one?
We do understand the slippery slope argument of Nassau officials that allowing criticism of the occupied territories could stoke criticism of Israel and antisemitism. And refusing to sell ice cream in the occupied territories could be seen as supporting the BDS movement.
But then again Israel’s handling of the occupied territories and its treatment of Palestinians are already hurting Israel’s image among some and stoking antisemitism.
Yes, Israel is a Jewish state, but it is also a state and like all countries, it sometimes elects flawed leaders and makes mistakes. And sometimes being a good friend means telling them the truth even if that is something they don’t want to hear.
Curran criticized Ben & Jerry’s for “unfairly and dangerously” singling out Israel.
Would she be more comfortable if Ben & Jerry’s also boycotted China, Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and other countries that violate human rights around the world?
Then again what steps have Nassau County and the other municipalities taken against those countries?
Or for that matter companies that financially support senators and Congress members who sought to undermine democracy in the United States by not certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. After an armed mob attacked the U.S. Capitol.
Israelis themselves recently voted out the coalition led by Netanyahu. The head of the new coalition and Netanyahu also strongly criticized Ben & Jerry’s decision.
But perhaps the two guys from Merrick will use ice cream to help steer Israel in a better direction in its handling of the occupied territories.