Report: Israeli task force set up to create political, consumer, and media pressure on Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry's Ice cream (File)

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  July 28, 2021

Axios reports Israel has formed a special task force designed to “create long-term pressure on Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s by consumers, politicians, and in the press and social media.” The initial efforts of that campaign appear to have already started.

Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would stop selling ice cream in illegal Israeli settlements over a week ago but hysterical reactions to the news show no signs of stopping.

This week Axios reported that Israel had formed a special task force designed to pressure Ben & Jerry’s, and its parent company Unilever, into backing down. A classified Foreign Ministry cable seen by Axios declared, “We need to make use of the 18 months that are left until the decision comes into force and try to change it. We want to create long-term pressure on Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s by consumers, politicians, and in the press and social media in order to lead to a dialogue with the companies.”

Among other actions the memo reportedly tells Israeli diplomats “to encourage Jewish organizations, pro-Israel advocacy groups and evangelical communities to organize demonstrations in front of Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever offices” in an effort to pressure the corporations and their investors.

The Axios report also asserts that the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Israeli Consulates pushed for states to implement their anti-BDS laws if possible and help pressure the company politically. On Twitter J Street Vice President Dylan Williams pointed out that such a call might have “possible Foreign Agents Registration Act implications if any of the US groups acted on the request.”

It’s unclear whether any United States lawmakers have directly responded to call but many have certainly acted. This includes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who sent a letter to the State Board of Administration asking them to put Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on Florida’s official list of entities that boycott Israel.

“As a matter of law and principle, the State of Florida does not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the Israeli people, including boycotts and divestments targeting Israel,” said DeSantis.

In Texas a spokesperson for Governor Greg Abbott called Ben & Jerry’s decision “disgraceful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East.” The state’s Comptroller Glenn Hegar vowed to see if the state could take “specific action” against the company.

The rhetoric has been even more extreme among Israeli lawmakers. Shortly after the move Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said it was “a shameful surrender to antisemitism, to BDS and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called it a “moral mistake” and promised that Israel “will fight it with all our might.” Israeli Economics Minister Orna Barbivay shared a video of her throwing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream into the trash. 90 Knesset members (out of 120) also signed a letter calling on Ben & Jerry’s to reverse their decision.

A number of pro-Israel organizations have also gotten in on the action. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the organization had been in “deep dialogue” with Unilever for over a week. Greenblatt also shared a letter from the parent company where they assure the ADL that they don’t support the BDS movement.

Unilever sent the same letter to William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The Israeli-American Council flew a massive banner over Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont that declared, “Serve Ice Cream, Not Hate.”

The most comical move might have come from the Shurat HaDin Law Center in Tel Aviv. They have applied to distribute ice cream in the West Bank under the name “Judea and Samaria’s Ben & Jerry’s,” claiming that the company relinquished its trademark rights when it pulled out of the settlements. The group’s president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner sent a letter to Unilever which claims, “We will now become the lawful owners of the Ben & Jerry’s name in Judea and Samaria.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss