Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer rent out properties owned by Jews living in the West Bank. Only Jewish owners of homes were targeted. Under a barrage of criticism for anti-Jewish discrimination, Airbnb backed down after a few months.
The boycott announced by Ben & Jerry’s July 19 goes much further in five ways.
First, the Ben & Jerry’s boycott calls its boycott a boycott. It doesn’t duck. This is significant, and in two ways. First, it makes clear Ben & Jerry’s intent to inflict harm. Second, a boycott of Israel is illegal in some 33 states in the US. The Ben & Jerry’s boycott opens it up to huge potential losses, as these states may not be able to legally contract with Ben & Jerry’s, and the pensions plans in 12 of these states may be obligated to disinvest from Ben & Jerry’s. At a minimum, Ben & Jerry’s appears to have invited multiple lawsuits which, win or lose, will tie up its resources, attention and reputation for a long time.
Second, although the Ben & Jerry’s boycott targets “occupied Palestinian territories,” this attempt at limiting the boycott was formulated by the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s — by Unilever. Ben & Jerry’s itself, which retains autonomy under Unilever, denounced this. Ben & Jerry’s made it clear that, contrary to Unilever, it does not want to sell its products anywhere in Israel. This accentuates both its intent to harm and its exposure to the anti-BDS laws in the US.
Third, the anti-boycott laws themselves are broad, encompassing territories that Israel controls, i.e., in Ben & Jerry’s terms, “occupied Palestinian territories.” A boycott there is the same as a boycott of Israel. Ben & Jerry’s draws a distinction that the anti-BDS laws typically do not draw.
Fourth, Ben & Jerry’s is abusing its licensee, coercing it to restrict its sales. For a company that calls itself progressive, it confirms the worst stereotype of progressive as connoting a willingness to bully or destroy anyone who stands in the way of its policies.
Fifth, the ultimate goal of the boycott is Israel’s disappearance, since the boycott responds to clear and longstanding pressure from those Palestinian advocates who believe that Israel is discriminatory and destructive, “from the river to the sea.” Ben & Jerry’s may think that it’s fooling people with its pledge to continue to operate in Israel (again, undefined), but it doesn’t take much to see through this. A boycott is meant to harm. Even if one accepts that Jewish settlements are wrong, most of the people who live there also work in Israel or do personal business in Israel. Whatever the anti-BDS legalities may be, there is, practically speaking, no such thing as a limited boycott.
Here, too, we have a confirmation of the worst stereotype of progressive policy: making perfect sense in some ethereal world but not taking into account the complex realities on the ground.
When all shades of Israel’s political spectrum, with the exception of the Arab parties, instinctively denounce Ben & Jerry’s boycott, this says a lot. It’s wrong. It is, in the words of Israel’s foreign minister, no friend of Israel’s settlements, “a shameful surrender to anti-Semitism.”
As Yogi Berra said, predictions are hard, especially about the future, but we suspect that a well-loved brand will be permanently soiled and damaged if it does not reverse course quickly.
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