Israeli response to Ben & Jerry’s announcement reveals ironclad consensus behind the settlements

Jonathna Ofir 

Mondoweiss  /  July 20, 2021

Meretz represents the far left of Israeli politics and even its leader says even he buys settlement products. This more than anything shows the overwhelming Israeli political consensus behind the settlements.

The big news is ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling their products in Israeli West Bank settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory, all of which are flagrantly illegal by international law.

The response in Israel was unhinged. From Prime Minister Naftali Bennett calling it “anti-Israel ice cream”, to his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu calling for counter-boycott (“now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy”), to the centrist Foreign Minister Yair Lapid calling it antisemitism, to economy and industry minister Orna Barbivay posting a TikTok video of her throwing a pint in the trash.

Israel’s US ambassador Gilad Erdan, formerly the czar of Israel’s anti-BDS ministry, took the advice of the ‘liberal’ Lapid, and wrote to 35 US Governors of states which passed the anti-constitutional, anti-boycott laws that the Israel lobby has been promoting, and urged them to act against the “dehumanization of the Jewish people”. Erdan had the nerve to use that old rag, the empathy card – that boycotts would “harm Palestinians as well”.  

But where we really must focus is on the Zionist left. Because their reaction to the Ben & Jerry’s news shows how deeply entrenched the consensus behind the settlements is within the Jewish State.

Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Meretz, the furthest left party in the supposed “government of change”, responded to the Ben & Jerry’s announcement by saying that he, too, buys settlement products, “sometimes”. Asked at a Ynet interview whether he “also purchase(s) products that were made in settlements”, Horowitz said:

“Yes, sometimes I end up also buying products that are made in settlements.”

Horowitz’s point was that he didn’t think boycotts were useful and that he was “against them”, but pointed the focus elsewhere:

“But I’m saying that the solution and the discussion do not need to be at this level at all. It needs to be at the diplomatic level so as to solve the problem from the foundation, because if we don’t do that we will always encounter these claims, these campaigns, attempts to boycott… The principal matter as far as I am concerned is promoting the arrangement against (sic) the Palestinians.”

And what exactly is this “arrangement against the Palestinians” per Horowitz? It is something that comes out of “negotiations”.

The “arrangement against the Palestinians” probably does not come across as anything special in Israeli jargon, but I find it a singularly telling Freudian slip. The “peace process”, with the endless negotiations and finally “arrangements” which essentially put Palestinians into Bantustans, is a major aspect in bringing about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in 2005 – a Palestinian call to take Israel to account for its violations. It was realized, that these “negotiations” between a vastly superior occupying party and a vastly inferior occupied party can never bring about any arrangement that can lead to justice for Palestinians. This was after the Oslo Agreements of mid-90’s (an interim agreement meant to bring to final status negotiations within 5 years) froze the Occupied Palestinian Territories into a Swiss cheese of areas A, B, and C; this was after Israeli Labor’s Ehud Barak supposedly extended Palestinians a “generous offer” that amounted to Bantustans with military checkpoints; this was after the International Court of Justice in 2004 ruled that Israel’s separation barrier (aka Apartheid Wall) was illegal, but Israel’s Supreme Court defied the world. and the world accepted. Israel was basically shielded by US backing, and felt no need to comply with international law nor to relinquish its power without any substantial outside pressure.

Notice Horowitz’s claim that he, too, buys settlement products (“sometimes”). He is telling us that these settlements are part of what he sees as legitimate. For him, it’s part of Israel. It’s very important to understand what an overwhelming consensus this is in Israel.

Horowitz might not call this boycott antisemitic, as Lapid does, but the government minister just to his right, Merav Michaeli, Leader of Labor, has done exactly that. Although she appeared silent on the Ben & Jerry’s story, in 2017 she told the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council:

“I think it’s for a long time now been very clear, that a lot of the BDS movement is good old anti-Semitism in new clothes… It’s definitely not good for anyone, other than those who really want to harm Israel and harm Jews. “   

The approach of these people is basically that there can be critique, but it should never amount to action. Horowitz should also be able to buy settlement products sometimes. It’s like the ADL says:

“We are disappointed by this decision from @benandjerrys. You can disagree with policies without feeding into dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel.”

All of these responses, and especially the ones from the minuscule Israeli left, are an indication of one thing: Israel is entrenched in its settlements, and it will not budge. It is one state that is determined to maintain its Apartheid control with only symbolic dissent at best. Anything beyond this results in cries of “antisemitism” and “dehumanization of the Jewish people”.

And this all brings us back to Ben & Jerry’s. They are implementing what is called “selective boycott”, in that they are not saying they would withdraw from Israel completely – they only refer to their intent to withdraw sales from occupied Palestinian territory. The question becomes, why not take the whole state to task for its violations, if it is so clear that it is one state? As the leading Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem pointed out, it’s a one “Apartheid… regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea”; Human Rights Watch confirmed that Israel maintains a singular regime of Apartheid and Persecution. So why not take the whole regime to task, rather than just some of the territories it controls?

This is a discussion which has been going on for some years.  In 2016, ‘liberal-Zionists’ such as Todd Gitlin, Peter Beinart, Kai Bird, Peter Brooks, Michael Walzer, Edward Witten, et al. promoted selective boycotts of settlements, yet opposed “an economic, political, or cultural boycott of Israel itself as defined by its June 4, 1967, borders”. In response to this, Angela Y. Davis, Chandler Davis, Richard A. Falk, Rashid Khalidi, Alice Rothchild, et al. welcomed “the shattering of the taboo against boycotting Israeli entities that are complicit in—at least selective—violations of Palestinian human rights” but then wondered:

“Defying common sense, however, the statement calls for boycotting settlements while letting Israel, the state that has illegally built and maintained those settlements for decades, off the hook.”

It is becoming clear, that Israel rejects any distinction between itself and the Palestinian territories it occupies. For Israel, this is all one Jewish State. And it is not going to say thank you for that distinction. Yes there are some exceptions: Gabi Lasky of Meretz did express satisfaction at Ben & Jerry’s distinction, while saying she was “not happy with the boycotts”; Meretz lawmaker Mosi Raz noted the “immorality of the settlements”. But they are outliers. The distinction hardly exists in the Israeli political spectrum, and it seems that it only serves as a marginal lip-tax for the furthest Zionist left, so that its leader balances his criticism by saying that he too buys settlement products. It’s pathetic.

We need to come to terms with it, and understand that this talk has become pedantic, feeding into the “dual regimes delusion” as Nathan Thrall so brilliantly called it in the London Review of Books in January. There is no “Israel proper” here, and occupation “there”.

It’s all one state of Apartheid.

Israel is clearly playing the game of all or nothing. If you boycott it in any way, it will act as one against you. Change Gouvernement is no different from Netanyahu.

Now we hear that the local Israeli subsidiary of Ben & Jerry’s is challenging the global company, Unilever, which owns the ice cream brand, as well as the global Ben & Jerry’s leadership. In a tweet Monday evening, local Ben & Jerry’s CEO Avi Zinger tweeted:

“We are continuing to sell in all of Israel, and we will not surrender to the pressure of Unilever and the global Ben & Jerry’s”.

Ben & Jerry’s has clearly gotten into a war on this, which is also conducted from within its executive ranks. The global company will clearly have to stand its ground against colossal Israeli pressure. Hopefully, it will not do the volte face that Airbnb did, when they first declared they would pull out of settlements, and then reversed. It may be that events will force Ben & Jerry’s out of Israel completely. In my opinion it would be better if Ben & Jerry’s stepped out on its own volition as an ideological statement, but even if it gets forced out by standing its ground, it would be an encouragement to other companies: that they too can take Israel to task for its violations, despite the backlash, and survive.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Orna Barbivay and Ben Shapiro too say they will not be eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream anymore. I, on the other hand, am seriously considering getting back to it.