Israel’s vicious response to Ben and Jerry – ‘antisemites’ – is a wakeup call for American Jews

Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (MW)

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  June 30, 2022

“The antisemites will not win over us. Not even with ice cream”

This was the victorious tweet of Yair Lapid, Israel’s Prime Minister as of tonight, upon publication of the news by Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever, that it has decided to sell its production rights of Ben & Jerry’s to the local Israeli producer Avi Zinger, owner of American Quality Products. So Ben& Jerry’s ice cream will continue be produced in Israel and distributed throughout the illegal settlements, merely without the English logo, and instead with a Hebrew and Arabic one. This was the “arrangement” reached by Unilever after Ben & Jerry’s announced last year that they would stop selling their ice cream in Israeli settlements, and an ensuing legal battle involving the highest political echelons.

Yesterday Ben & Jerry’s announced that they disagree with Unilever’s announced decision. Unilever has permitted a kind of knockoff product and bypassed Ben & Jerry’s (which has a an independent board with ostensible autonomy over social responsibility considerations).

Foreign Minister Lapid will now be stepping in as Prime Minister – this is political dealing at the highest levels of government.

It is worth pointing out the bitter irony in Lapid’s claim that the Ben & Jerry’s move was led by “antisemites”: That is in itself an antisemitic attack against Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s– two “proud Jews” as they called themselves in their New York Times opinion article on the matter from last year, in which they expressed the belief that “it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies”.

This story has to have significance in relation to how one strategizes a boycott against Israel. The moral of the story is, that the “selective boycott”, that is a boycott of Israel’s war crimes– and settlements are war crimes, under international law– will result in the same response as a more inclusive boycott call that takes the whole country to task for its violations, which include crimes against humanity such as Apartheid. Ben & Jerry’s have tried to go the selective way, a way which has been the hallmark of many “liberal Zionists”, but the Israeli response from top down suggests that there is no benefit in such caution. It simply misses the mark. The Israeli government (notably with its supposedly liberal heroes), will treat any boycott, as partial as it may be, as an attack on the whole state, and in fact, as an attack on all Jews, as Lapid’s words indicate.

This is therefore a time in which to take a more clear stance. Insistence upon “Israel’s right to exist”, whatever that misnomer is supposed to mean, as a supposed security against being called an antisemite will not do it. Neither will the insistence to make the clinical separation between Israel on the one side of the Green Line (“1967 lines”) and Israel on the other side of it: Israel with and without the occupation. That is mere subscription to the “dual regime delusion”.

There is no other Israel, this is as good as it gets. It’s a one Apartheid state.

There is an inevitable process here. Ben & Jerry’s were trying to hope for the best with Israel. There are many people trying to give Israel the benefit of the doubt. That it can rise from fascistic tendencies like the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu. The alternative to Netanyahu was Naftali Bennett, whose government has now collapsed and is awaiting new elections in November.

Bennett is the most right-wing Prime Minister Israel ever had, further right than Netanyahu. He might be more polite than Netanyahu, especially now that he’s not calling Palestinian lawmakers monkeys or boasting about killing many Arabs – but ideologically he’s no relief.

And his alternate Prime Minister, Lapid, who will now be taking his place for a while until the elections – the supposedly liberal and more centrist counterweight of this ridiculous “government of change” – he’s the man who authored the fundamentalist bile mentioned above, essentially calling more liberal Jews the wrong kind of Jews.

There is no relief. There is no alternative. Israel will not budge, it will hold tight to its occupation and to its Apartheid, and it will fight all it can against those who seek to effect change.

That’s why it’s time to take a more clear stand. You can’t sit on the Green Line. Either you support this Apartheid and give up all attempts at civil political pressures like boycotts, divestments and sanctions, or you take it up against the state as a whole. There are no two ways about it, just like there are no two states in any actual political horizon.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield represent a big group of American Jews who are not pleased with what Israel is doing, yet do not want to go against the state as a whole. Their Jewish values are part of their conviction that such change should occur, that it is inconsistent with their liberal values to allow such systemic oppression to continue unabated and without opposition.

In other words, they link Israel with their Jewish outlook, and they want to see another Israel, which alas never appears on the map. When even the liberal Zionist leaders of Israel like Lapid tell them that they are antisemites, this is bound to provoke a more radical response by these people. They are being told that there is only one kind of Judaism, one that is bound in fundamentalist ultra-nationalism, occupation and Apartheid.

Some of these people might start fighting for the soul of what they perceive to be Judaism. And their fight will have to become against Israel as a whole – maybe even against the idea of Israel. That means, becoming anti-Zionist.

Reality has brought us here. It’s nice to have dreams about what Israel is, or could be. But it is what it is. If cautious, selective, partial pressure won’t change that, then there are only two ways about it: give up, or up the stakes.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark