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Beneath the Hysteria around Ben & Jerry's
While hysteria erupts surrounding the Ben & Jerry's boycott of Judea & Samaria, some people are wondering if it's really so terrible. I've seen two types of questions/ points being made:
1) Plenty of Jews - liberal Zionists - object to the occupation. Some refuse to buy products made in the West Bank. Why should a non-Jewish company be any different?
2) The claim is often made that it's only antisemitic to oppose Israel, not any particular government policy. That claim is surely being undermined by blasting Ben & Jerry's as antisemitic, since they are not opposed to selling in Israel, only in the West Bank; they are not part of BDS.
Here's why these points are off-base - and why they are generally being made only by people who do not live in Israel.
Yes, Israel is engaged in a form of occupation - although the Jewish People have a historical and moral claim to the land (since it was won in a defensive war), even the State of Israel itself does not consider Judea & Samaria to be Israel. This has various bad consequences.
However, in fact you will find that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis - including many of those that pushed for years for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank - do not believe that any form of boycott is appropriate. The reason is very simple. After the political events of the last twenty years, and the Gaza withdrawal and its consequences, most Israelis realized that no matter how bad the problems of the occupation, no matter how much they may want to leave the West Bank, there's simply currently no way out.
What would people, such as the directors of Ben & Jerry's, actually have Israel do? Let's recall that Israel acquired the territories in a defensive war, fought against people who have repeatedly tried to wipe Israel off the map. Withdrawing from the territories under a negotiated peace agreement may sound ideal, but the reason why it hasn't happened has very little to do with Israel and a lot more to do with the Palestinians. Serious offers were repeatedly made by Israel and were rejected by the Palestinians. They're not actually even proposing anything or even willing to discuss it. And it's pretty clear that there is no Palestinian leadership that is interested in a final resolution (which is actually quite understandable, because they'd rather be a hero to their people for opposing Israel than get a bullet in the back for making compromises for peace). So why blame Israel for the situation?
The other alternative is for Israel to unilaterally withdraw. But this is likewise not viable. It wouldn't be long before there were rockets fired into Tel Aviv. And then Israel would be handicapped against defending itself, just as with the Gaza war, because the international community believes that Jews have no right to take the necessary military action required to prevent rockets from being fired.
It's all very well to be upset about the situation and to fervently wish for peace. But at the moment, there's simply no way to make that happen. And it's wrong to place the blame at Israel's doorstep.
With regard to the second claim - that since Ben & Jerry's are only opposed to selling in the West Bank, then they shouldn't be described as anti-Israel/ antisemitic - the response is as follows. Although Ben & Jerry's should not be confused with Unilever (from which they have full independence in this aspect), the fact is that Ben & Jerry's have no problem doing business in countries whose moral challenges are far greater than those of Israel.
Ben & Jerry's pulled out of Russia solely for financial reasons. They operate in the United Arab Emirates, which is an authoritarian state with no democratically elected institutions, no formal commitment to free speech, and in which there are systematic human rights violations, including the torture and forced disappearance of government critics. They have no objection to the Palestinian Authority, which is itself condemned by Amnesty for stifling free speech, torturing detainees with impunity, and various other abuses of human rights. And so when Ben & Jerry's singles out the Jewish State for boycott, then yes, this is anti-Israel and antisemitic.
(Note too that it was Unilever that said that they wish to stay operating in the rest of Israel; Ben & Jerry's itself then objected to that statement. The board of directors of Ben & Jerry's is led by Anuradha Mittal, a dedicated anti-Israel activist who has described the creation of Israel as a "catastrophe.")
On a lighter note: Since the Israel franchisee of Ben & Jerry's is losing his license as a result of refusing to cooperate with the boycott, I propose that he continue manufacturing ice cream under a different name, one that projects Israeli political strength; he could call it "Bennett & Ya'iry's"!
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