In 2011, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) began a discussion with Ben & Jerry’s in South Burlington, Vermont, concerning their long-standing contractual relationship with an Israeli franchise that manufactures ice cream in Israel proper and sells it in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
These settlements – fortified colonies for Jews only – contravene international law. Ben & Jerry’s knows this. It knows too that the company’s Social Mission and history of supporting progressive causes cannot be reconciled with its franchise’s commercial ties to the settlements.
Despite what it knows and the values that define its corporate identity, Ben & Jerry’s refuses to stop its Israeli franchise from making money in the settlements.
The decision to call for a boycott
VTJP’s thinking reached a tipping point during Israel’s massive military assault against Gaza in the summer of 2014, the third in less than six years. Nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed and more than 11,000 wounded. The casualties were overwhelmingly civilians.
Because Gaza’s morgues could not handle the horrific carnage, bodies of dead children and babies had to be stacked temporarily in ice cream freezers prior to burial.
While this massacre of innocents was being carried out, Ben & Jerry’s “peace & love” ice cream was passing through Israeli checkpoints, being transported on Jewish-only roads, and being sold to supermarkets and at catered events in Jewish-only settlements.
It cannot be progressive and remain silent on Palestine
It’s now clear that appealing to Ben & Jerry’s socially responsible “conscience” alone will not achieve our objectives.
Since 2013, the year our campaign went public, thousands of individuals and 239 organisations in 20 countries, including Israel, and from the District of Columbia and the occupied Palestinian territories, have called on Ben & Jerry’s to honor its Social Mission by severing its franchise’s business with Israeli settlements.
Jeff Furman, chairperson of Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors, travelled to Occupied Palestine in 2012 with a group of American civil rights’ leaders. He described what he saw there as “apartheid”.
A Ben & Jerry’s delegation traveled to Israel/Palestine in 2014, as VTJP had urged. Participants met with anti-occupation activists, and some toured the West Bank. They learned from credible sources and saw with their own eyes the brutal measures and humiliations that afflict Palestinian life.
VTJP also informed the company in 2014 that its franchise may be purchasing equipment from an illegal Israeli enterprise in the occupied [Syrian] Golan Heights.
In spite of all this, the company has refused not only to stop its practices, but to even issue a statement calling for an end to Israel’s occupation and settlements.
VTJP also announced its boycott call with an original “cantastoria” and video called “No Justice, No Sweets”. The Apartheid Adventures media collective, on its own initiative, produced a brilliant satirical video called “Licking Apartheid“.
Our boycott call is being disseminated through the social media and organisational networks of Palestine solidarity and peace groups around the world.
Much organising work remains to be done, of course. VTJP calls on people of conscience around the world to endorse and contribute to this boycott.
Mark Hage is a member of Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.