We have finally heard from the two names behind the ice cream.
After a week of controversy over Ben & Jerry’s decision to boycott Israel’s West Bank, the founders – Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – have weighed in.
And guess what: They support the company’s decision saying it “is not a contradiction nor is it anti-Semitic.”
“In fact, we believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism,” they wrote in a New York Times oped on Wednesday.
In their piece titled, “We’re Ben and Jerry. Men of Ice Cream, Men of Principle,” the pair identified as “proud Jews” and supporters of Israel.
“But it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government,” they wrote. “As such, we unequivocally support the decision of the company to end business in the occupied territories, which a majority of the international community, including the United Nations, has deemed an illegal occupation.”
When the company announced on July 19 that it will stop selling ice cream in the “occupied Palestinian territories“ it drew widespread criticism from Israeli lawmakers and Jewish organizations.
Anuradha Mittal, the chair of Ben & Jerry’s board of directors, insisted that the decision was not anti-Semitic.
“None of our organizations endorse boycotts of Israel or support the global BDS movement... like Ben & Jerry’s, we make a clear distinction between the State of Israel & the Palestinian territories it militarily occupies,” she wrote.
Cohen and Greenfield also noted that the company drew a distinction between boycotting Israel as a whole versus territory "outside Israel’s democratic borders.”
Cohen and Greenfield founded the company in 1978 and sold it to Unilever in 2000. While they have no operational control over the ice cream giant, fans of the company known for its creative flavors were awaiting the opinions of Ben and Jerry themselves.
In their oped they wrote:
“Ben & Jerry’s is a company that advocates peace. It has long called on Congress to reduce the U.S. military budget. Ben & Jerry’s opposed the Persian Gulf war of 1991. But it wasn’t just talk. One of our very first social-mission initiatives, in 1988, was to introduce the Peace Pop. It was part of an effort to promote the idea of redirecting 1 percent of national defense budgets around the world to fund peace-promoting activities. We see the company’s recent action as part of a similar trajectory – not as anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace.”
“In its statement, the company drew a contrast between the democratic territory of Israel and the territories Israel occupies. The decision to halt sales outside Israel’s democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel. The Ben & Jerry’s statement did not endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”
“The company’s stated decision to more fully align its operations with its values is not a rejection of Israel. It is a rejection of Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is a barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation. As Jewish supporters of the State of Israel, we fundamentally reject the notion that it is anti-Semitic to question the policies of the State of Israel.”
“When we left the helm of the company, we signed a unique governance structure in the acquisition agreement with Unilever back in 2000. That structure is the magic behind both Ben & Jerry’s continued independence and its success. As part of the agreement, the company retained an independent board of directors with a responsibility to protect the company’s essential brand integrity and to pursue its social mission.”
“We believe business is among the most powerful entities in society. We believe that companies have a responsibility to use their power and influence to advance the wider common good. Over the years, we’ve also come to believe that there is a spiritual aspect to business, just as there is to the lives of individuals. As you give, you receive. We hope that for Ben & Jerry’s, that is at the heart of the business. To us, that’s what this decision represents, and that is why we are proud that 43 years after starting an ice cream shop in a dilapidated gas station in Burlington, Vt., our names are still on the package.”
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS