Ben & Jerry’s Divestment From Israel Draws Backlash From Long Island Officials

ben & jerry's
Tubs of ice-cream are seen as a laborer works at Ben & Jerry’s factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Famous Vermont-based ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s announcement Monday that it would stop selling its products in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories has drawn backlash from Long Island officials who oppose the BDS Movement, which supports businesses divesting from Israel.

Ben & Jerry’s, whose co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield became friends while growing up in Merrick and graduated Calhoun High School, has long supported progressive causes such as Black Lives Matter, climate justice, LGBTQ rights, and now, BDS, which is short for boycott, divest, and sanctions. The company noted that it would still sell its ice cream in other parts of Israel.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company’s statement said. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”

Divesting from Israel aligns Ben & Jerry’s with the BDS Movement that aims to support freedom for Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank settlements by putting economic and political pressure on Israel. Movement leaders issued a statement welcoming Ben & Jerry’s decision “as a decisive step toward ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights.”

However, many United States elected officials oppose divestment from Israel and argue the BDS movement is anti-Semitic. In 2015, New York State passed anti-BDS laws that prohibit state entities from doing business with companies that boycott, divest or pass sanctions in Israel.

Local governments also have their own anti-BDS laws, including Nassau County, which passed one in 2016, and several towns on Long Island, some of which used Ben & Jerry’s decision to reaffirm their commitment to those laws.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran issued a statement on Thursday denouncing Ben & Jerry’s and BDS, saying the movement “unfairly and dangerously singles out the world’s only Jewish state.”

“As a county legislator, I voted to prohibit the county from doing business with companies or individuals involved in the discriminatory BDS movement,” she added.

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin on Thursday held a rally in support of Israel and announced that the town would not conduct business with the ice cream company or its parent distributor Unilever, in agreement with its own anti-BDS laws.

“Every town, every county, every state should follow our lead,” Clavin said. “This BDS movement is anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic.”

Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino also reaffirmed that the town has a policy that “restricts government from doing business with any company that boycotts, divests and/or sanctions Israel. Accordingly, we refuse to give any business to Ben & Jerry’s or its parent company, Unilever.”

And, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth reaffirmed the town’s anti-BDS law passed in 2017, stating, “North Hempstead’s anti-BDS legislation ensures that taxpayer money is never used to do business with or support any company that engages in a boycott of Israel. North Hempstead is a community of unity and inclusion.”

Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, vowed to take aggressive action against Ben & Jerry’s. Israel has controlled the West Bank and a contested part of east Jerusalem since capturing them in the 1967 Mideast war. Ben & Jerry’s stance marks one of the most public, high-profile denouncements of Israel’s settlement practices and treatment of Palestinians there.

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