How Ben & Jerry Really Feel About The Brand's Recent Controversy

Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have penned an opinion piece for The New York Times in response to the media storm over the decision by their namesake Ben & Jerry's brand to suspend operations in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. After drawing the ire of many on social media for the move, they decided to the pen the letter, beginning it by stating, "We are the founders of Ben & Jerry's. We are also proud Jews. It's part of who we are and how we've identified ourselves for our whole lives." 

They proceed to explain that, as Jews, they support the state of Israel. However, they also oppose some policies pursued by the country just like they have been vocal for the past 30 years on many things the US government has done that they don't agree with. 

Though the founders no longer have a hand in the running of the company as British giant Unilever now owns it (per the New York Post), the notable duo maintains that they stand behind the decision to stop sales in this part of Israel and declare doing so is not anti-Semitic. As they say in the New York Times article, "In fact, we believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights ... [the] core tenets of Judaism."

As the Associated Press reports, Illinois lawmakers say the state will divest from Unilever if Ben & Jerry's refuses to change its choice within the next 90 days. As AP notes, "The Illinois Investment Policy Board monitors compliance with state law prohibiting the investment in certain companies that do business with Iran and Sudan as well as companies that boycott Israel."

Ben & Jerry's is one of the largest brands to take this strong stance

As Cohen and Greenfield were presumably composing their piece, the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, took time out of their legislative agenda to call on Ben & Jerry's to reverse their decision. As ABC News detailed in their coverage, the decision in question still only concerns sales in the occupied areas of the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem.

Furthermore, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations also blamed the U.N.'s Security Council for the boycott: "When this council fails to take strong action against the world's worst human rights violators like Iran and Syria, and instead singles out the world's only Jewish state, it is no wonder that companies like Ben & Jerry's and Unilever allow themselves to single out Israel for boycott."

It might seem strange to many that an ice cream company's decision to stop selling their goods in a rather small geographic area has taken the political stage so strongly. Writing for The Conversation, Ronnie Olesker, an Associate Professor of Government Policy at St. Lawrence University, gives two major reasons why the decision has shaken people. 

First, Ben & Jerry's owns 75% of the premium ice cream market in Israel. Second, this represents the first major victory of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which in turn represents a change in attitude held by many towards the policies conducted by the state of Israel. Some politicians fear that if Ben & Jerry's does not step down, more stringent measures might follow. 

As a result, many grocery stores in the US have also decided to stop carrying Ben & Jerry's products (per the New York Post).