The Real Reason Some Grocery Stores Are Boycotting Ben & Jerry's

"I will not be eating any more Cherry Garcia for a while," Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, declared in a news report by CBS. "This is a mistake. They shouldn't do this." The reason he and many kosher stores will refrain from purchasing or selling Ben & Jerry's ice cream is that the company has decided to stop selling products within the occupied Palestinian territories.

"I thought this was an anti-Semitic statement about the evil situation in the Middle East," Dani Secemski, the owner of the Teaneck, New Jersey-based Glatt Express, told CNN. Despite the fact that the store still has $1,200 worth of Ben & Jerry's in storage, he is holding out on selling. "If they can reverse their decision, then we'll 100% carry them on our shelves again, and I'll be the first person to tell other businesses to do the same thing."

Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has responded, according to Reuters. In a phone call with Unilever, the multinational that owns Ben & Jerry's, he called this a "glaring anti-Israel measure," and stated that there would be consequences and that he would fight the boycott. He even asked the American government to impose anti-boycott laws. U.S. officials noted that the Ben & Jerry's decision was "the actions of a private company" and the current administration opposes boycott movements.

The government of Texas, as CNBC reports, has acted according to a law signed four years ago by forcing pension funds to divest from companies boycotting Israel.

Boycotts to the left of them, boycotts to the right

People who have been following the story might bring up that Ben & Jerry's only intended to pull out of the occupied regions of Palestine, not Israel. "Although Ben & Jerry's will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement," the company claimed in a statement. Unilever also released a statement supporting the decision to stay in Israel (via Unilever).

Still, those who support the occupation see what Ben & Jerry's has already done as a horrible act of betrayal (via JTA). Moreover, although rights groups allied with the Palestinians applaud the decision, they consider it a half measure. On July 21, Common Dreams covered a statement co-written by Adalah Justice Project, the Movement for Black Lives, and U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. The three groups see this as a sign that the tactics of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions work, but reiterate that "the unwavering fight for justice isn't over... until Ben & Jerry's ends all business with apartheid Israel." For them, the current state of Israel cannot be separated from the occupation of Palestinian lands. So, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights declared in a tweet that the boycott will continue until Ben & Jerry's divests from the country entirely. 

Their demands extend beyond Ben & Jerry's simply ceasing to sell ice cream in Israel. Some protestors want the company to leave the Israeli factory that, as The Boston Globe notes in a Twitter thread, the company has worked with to produce ice cream for thirty years.

Will Ben & Jerry's stay or go?

Obviously, Ben & Jerry's is in a bit of a pickle. The situation has the added complexity of possibly putting the ice cream company in a confrontational position with its owner Unilever. That's because the board of Ben & Jerry's has stated that it has not decided what it will do with regards to Israel.

According to NBC, the board originally wanted to send out a statement that lacked the explicit commitment to staying in the country. "I am saddened by the deceit of [Unilever]," Anuradha Mittal, the chair of the board, said. "This is not about Israel. It is about the violation of the acquisition agreement that maintained the soul of the company." Their acquisition had a contract crafted specially to allow Ben & Jerry's to vocally pursue the progressive vision of their founders.

For Unilever, however, allowing Ben & Jerry's to cease business with the Palestinian Occupied Territories, let alone the entire country of Israel, could exacerbate their financial difficulties. On July 22, Markets Insider noted that Unilever's stock fell by 6%. This was despite an increase in sales. The company insisted that the issue was the rising price of commodities, but it took little time before some protestors connected the political issue to the stock tank. "And then you let your brand @benandjerrys announce a discriminatory boycott of the world's only Jewish country," Michael Dickinson, the executive director of the pro-Israel organization Stand With Us, commented on Twitter. Now, we can only wait and see.