On July 19, 2021, the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company announced plans to stop selling its products in the “occupied Palestinian territories” and its intention to end its licensing agreement with their Israeli franchisee in December 2022. (The local company criticized the decision.)
Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s international parent company, subsequently added, “We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel.” However, Ben & Jerry’s board chair Anuradha Mittal claimed that Unilever did not consult the board before releasing its statement and that the board had wanted to “release a different statement… that made no reference to continued sales in Israel.”
This announcement and change in policy is part of a broader NGO-led BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) agenda and follows 10 years of campaigning from pro-BDS NGOs, predominantly led by an otherwise insignificant group, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel, as well as US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace. Calls on Ben & Jerry’s to boycott Israel significantly increased during the May 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict, when pro-Palestinian activists swarmed the comments sections of Ben & Jerry’s social media accounts, demanding the company boycott Israel and resulting in Ben & Jerry’s halting its social media activity for two months.
Notably, Mittal has a discernible history of anti-Israel bias. She has tweeted her support for BDS, including support boycotting Pillsbury, and in June 2021 signed a petition to US Secretary of State Blinken “demanding that he halt weapons sales to Israel.” In 2019, she tweeted, “calling for Congress not to have allegiances to foreign countries (Israel) is not anti-semitic” (tagging the pro-BDS group CODEPINK). In July 2021, Mittal retweeted an accusation that “extremist Jewish settlers” are “’preparing…a new assault” on the Temple Mount, referring to them as the “biggest enemies to peace & freedom” (in reality, Jews were peacefully visiting the Temple Mount for religious purposes). Mittal has also retweeted support for the release of Khalida Jarrar, a senior official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist organization, who was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison following “her own confession, of the offense of holding office in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine from 2016 until her arrest in 2019.” Mittal is also the founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, which has partnered in the past with radical NGOs that support BDS, including BADIL, ICAHD, Youth Against Settlements, and Hebron Rehabilitation Committee.
Under international law, there is no prohibition whatsoever for doing business or selling consumer products in either occupied territory or settlements.
Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP)
VTJP is a local Vermont pro-BDS organization that has pressured Ben and Jerry’s to cease doing business with Israel since 2011. Its campaigns are amplified by larger BDS organizations, such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) – the umbrella organization for BDS activity in the US.
- VTJP runs a separate website titled “Ben & Jerry’s out of Israel and the Illegal Settlements,” filled with resources including leaflets, petitions, and articles to aid people in their boycotting of Ben & Jerry’s.
- VTJP has accused the Israeli franchisee of Ben & Jerry’s of stealing Palestinian water, due to the possibility that some of the water provided to its factory originates underneath the West Bank. According to VTJP, “the company’s franchise was benefiting from Israel’s criminal diversion of Palestinian water…By manufacturing in Israel and marketing in the occupied territory, Ben & Jerry’s is a willing partner to a water system that is grossly inequitable, transgresses international law, and denies Palestinians their fair share of the Mountain Aquifer and the Jordan River.”
- Israel’s use of water is entirely consistent with international law and practice, and is dictated by the 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo II) mutually agreed to between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. (For more information, see NGO Monitor’s 2015 report: Myths vs. Facts: NGOs and the Destructive Water Campaign Against Israel.)
- On May 15, 2021, VTJP led a Nakba Day rally, in which it encouraged protestors to sign a petition calling on Ben and Jerry’s to ‘Get out of Israel now!’ The petition cites B’Tselem’s and Human Rights Watch’s reports alleging apartheid, which have denied Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state and echoed long-standing Palestinian terminology for the destruction of Israel. (Read NGO Monitor’s reports “HRW’s “Apartheid” Publication: Demonization, BDS, and Lawfare” and “From the “River to the Sea”: B’Tselem’s Demonization Crosses the Line.”)
- In 2013, VTJP sent a letter to Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim, signed by 151 organizations, calling on the company to “stand by its Social Mission and to ensure that its products are not sold, catered and distributed in Israeli settlements.” According to the letter, the social mission “cannot be reconciled with a settlement project in Palestine that is ‘predicated on systematic repression, racial segregation, land dispossession, the unlawful expropriation of water, and pervasive violence against Palestinians’.”
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
USCPR is a national coalition of hundreds of American groups, and is a leader and mobilizer of anti-Israel BDS campaigns.
- In November 2018, USCPR called to “Boycott companies that profit from Israeli apartheid,” including Ben & Jerry’s.
- In April 2017, USCPR called for individuals to “call on the company [Ben and Jerry’s] to end its complicity in Israel’s occupation.”
- In July 2016, USCPR called for a boycott of Ben and Jerry’s falsely claiming that the “Israeli franchise sells ice cream in illegal, Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, transported on Jewish-only roads, on trucks with Jewish-only license plates, passing easily through military checkpoints that bedevil others.”
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)
JVP is a US organization which views itself as the “Jewish wing” of the Palestinian solidarity movement, while working toward the goal of eliminating U.S. economic, military, and political aid to Israel.
- In June 2021, Jewish Voice for Peace Central Ohio organized a “Rally to Boycott Apartheid Israel” to “promote a boycott of Israeli goods,” including Ben & Jerry’s.
- In February 2016, the Vassar College branch of JVP tried to pass an anti-Israel divestment resolution targeting Ben & Jerry’s. The resolution sought to ban Vassar from purchasing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for student events, and again echoing the false claims of “Jewish only” roads and settlements: “Ben & Jerry’s ice cream continues to pass through Israeli checkpoints and be transported on Jewish-only roads to be sold in Jewish-only settlements.”
- In April 2014, JVP volunteers leafleted outside Ben & Jerry’s shops during Free Cone Day, calling for an end to “Ben & Jerry’s Complicity in Israel’s Occupation.”