The ‘tsunami’ and Israeli fragility — the takeaway on Ben & Jerry’s decision

Orna Barbivay, Israel's Economy Minister, trashes a pint of Ben & Jerry's to denounce its decision to stop selling in Occupied Territories (screenshot)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  July 23, 2021

There are two important takeaways from the Ben & Jerry’s decision this week to stop selling ice cream in the occupied territories, and the enraged response to it from Israeli leaders and their American Jewish enablers:

  1. The long-anticipated “tsunami” of international de-legitimization of Israel has begun.
  2. The dream of an Israeli F.W. De Klerk– the politician who leads the country away from apartheid — is (so far) a fantasy.

Ten years ago former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned his country that its failure to grant sovereignty to occupied Palestinians was going to bring a “tsunami” of diplomatic rebukes.

“We face a diplomatic tsunami that the majority of the public is unaware of… Israel’s delegitimization is in sight.”

Israel has of course done nothing to end the occupation since that warning; and the tsunami is finally happening. It began in January with the B’Tselem finding of an apartheid “regime of Jewish supremacy from the river to the sea.” Followed swiftly by the International Criminal Court decision to investigate Israel for possible war crimes, including the war crime of settlements. Followed by the Carnegie Endowment declaring,

This is officially a struggle for equal rights in one state.”

Then in April, Human Rights Watch issued its “apartheid” determination, and cited just what Barak cited 10 years before: Israel has only taken more territory in the West Bank, and there is no peace process on the horizon, so it has crossed a “threshold.”

All these actors embolden one another, and are helping to mainstream a formerly-radical critique of Israel, and to “delegitimize” the idea of a Jewish state. On Monday a mainline church body labelled Israel an “apartheid” state— the United Church of Christ, with 800,000 members (Steve France reports).

This process is not going to end any time soon. And Israel propelled its de-legitimization with yet another attack on occupied Gaza in May, killing scores of children and achieving nothing.

Now what about the hope that these moves would cause pragmatic Israeli leaders to reflect on their society and say, 

“There is no way forward as an occupying Jewish state. We must change.”

Quite the opposite has happened. What we’ve seen are brittle, angry, childish, injured tantrums on the part of Israeli leaders that make no distinction between occupied territories and Israel– Ben & Jerry’s is dehumanizing the Jewish people.

This is clearly the consequence of being pampered by the American Jewish community for decades now, insulated from any consequences for war crimes. No, the Israeli leaders are calling on American politicians to punish Unilever, the Ben & Jerry’s parent, for its behaviour. And look! The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has started sending out threatening letters to American governors, telling them to divest from Unilever because Ben & Jerry’s is finally taking a stand against illegal settlements.

I find the Israeli reactions highly amusing. They show just how fragile Israeli leaders are and how out of touch with the real world – where actions have consequences, where military occupations bring condemnations, where human rights abuses get called out, however feebly.

It’s amusing in a grotesque way that Israeli leaders feel they can occupy the West Bank forever, and call it Israel, defying world opinion, and believe they should get away with it. And in the process strip the concept of “antisemitism” of any meaning.

Some of that fragility:

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the Ben & Jerry’s action a “clearly anti-Israel step,” and warned Unilever of “serious repercussions, legal and otherwise.” His statement on the matter was sophomoric.

“Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as the anti-Israel ice cream.”

Israel’s foreign ministry attacked the decision as a surrender to “economic terrorism.” So did Isaac Herzog the new president of Israel:

“The boycott against Israel is a new type of terrorism — economic terrorism. Terrorism that seeks to harm Israeli citizens and the Israeli economy. We must oppose this boycott and terrorism of any kind,” Herzog said…”

Then there is Orna Barbivay, minister of the Economy and a member of Yair Lapid’s centrist list, esteemed by liberal Zionists, tossing out a pint of Ben & Jerry’s from her freezer in petulant protest.

The Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory– whose owner opposes the parent company decision– to protest the “despicable … terrorist antisemitic” act. The Times of Israel:

“Ben & Jerry’s International chose to suck up to terrorist and antisemitic organizations instead of being faithful to its Israeli licensee,” [Shaked] said at the factory…”

“Shaked said Israel will do everything it can in the “legal, consumer and diplomatic arenas” against the US producer in order to get it to backtrack on its decision.”

As Shaked says, Israel is leaning on pro-Israel groups in the US to pressure Unilever to reverse the decision. More brittle hysteria:

“On Tuesday, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, sent letters to the governors of the 35 US states that have enacted legislation against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, requesting that they sanction Ben & Jerry’s over its decision.”

 “I ask that you consider speaking out against the company’s decision, and taking any other relevant steps, including in relations to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben and Jerry’s and your state,” read the letter from Erdan, who said he coordinated the move with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.”

You can only imagine what Israeli leaders would do under a serious attack. P.S. They have nukes.

And as noted, American Jews are going along with this farce. The Conference of Presidents warned Ben & Jerry’s parent about the consequences, including pension funds in 33 states possibly divesting themselves of Unilever in response! Hadassah, B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Committee and Christians United for Israel are all in on the act.

While the ADL describes the move as antisemitic bigotry, because Palestinian human rights are anathema to that Zionist organization. “You can disagree with policies without feeding into dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel.”

But how are people to disagree with a 54-year-old illegal policy of transferring 700,000 civilians into occupied territory without the use of boycotts?

Liberal Zionists groups are supporting Ben & Jerry’s – even though they are a distinct minority in the Jewish establishment, and even though some of their names are on Conference of Presidents’ letter. Hadar Susskind of Americans for Peace Now called the decision “smart” and “nuanced.” J Street calls the decision “legitimate” and peaceful and says the claim that it is antisemitic “undermines and trivializes the critical fight against the very real increase in antisemitism in the United States.”

The liberal Zionists are also deluded: They like Ben & Jerry’s decision because it makes a distinction between “sovereign and non-sovereign Israel.” That’s a fiction to preserve their faith that Israel is something different from a military occupier. No Israeli leader shares that view. As IfNotNow says: “The Israeli government’s response to the Ben and Jerry’s settlement boycott doesn’t make a distinction between the West Bank and Israel because for decades the Israeli government’s policy hasn’t made a distinction between the West Bank and Israel. It’s de facto annexed.”

That’s the growing awareness that fuelled the Ben & Jerry’s decision. They surely felt they had a lot of cover when human rights groups are talking about apartheid.

And Ben & Jerry’s will get that cover. Israel’s leading newspaper says more are coming. From The Guardian:

“A political source told Haaretz news organisation there were fears that other international companies might follow Ben & Jerry’s lead under pressure from the BDS movement – a Palestinian-led initiative advocating boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli institutions and businesses, which many Israelis denounce as antisemitic.”

BDS has traction because of the reality, persecution. Though Israelis won’t wake up to this till the American Jewish firewall cracks.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006