Ben & Jerry

A freezer full of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with Hebrew lettering on the labels.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is one of a handful of governors to speak out against Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank.

Four days after the Vermont-based ice cream brand’s announcement, Ducey said on Twitter that Ben & Jerry’s decision “is discrimination.”

“Arizona stands with Israel,” Ducey wrote, and noted Arizona “will not do business with a company that boycotts Israel — in 2016 and 2019 I signed bills to make sure of it.”

His stance did not go unnoticed.

“Arizona is really a true friend of Israel. I don’t say this about every state,” said Hillel Newman, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Southwest of the United States. “It’s a wonderful thing when you’ve got a friend like that, who comes out in real time and says, ‘We don’t allow such discrimination in our state.’ That’s a tremendous thing not many governors have done.”

Ben & Jerry’s announced July 19, that it would continue operating in Israel, but would stop selling ice cream in the West Bank, which the company described as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Israel disputes that designation.

Speaking to Jewish community leaders at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus July 28, Newman said the move is an example of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which represents an ongoing attack on the legitimacy of Israel, he said.

“Unfortunately, many innocent people are swept up in empty or false slogans” he said. “They don’t understand the real roots of BDS actually comes from those that are against a two-state solution — they want to end Israel as a Jewish state.”

In a 2009 interview with The Electronic Intifada, a publication covering the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti said it “takes no position on the political solution to the conflict,” but advocates for a secular, democratic state based on the right of return for Palestinians.

Many people feel that BDS is a form of criticism of Israel, Newman said. But that is not the case. “The attempt to boycott Israel is another face of the attempt to delegitimize, and in the end, erase Israel.”

Ben & Jerry’s Israel, the company licensed to produce and distribute Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel, tweeted that it had refused to accept a demand from the American company to stop distributing its products in settlements. “This is an unprecedented action by Unilever, owner of Ben & Jerry’s Worldwide,” it said in a statement shared on Twitter. “Ice cream is not part of politics.”

Unilever CEO Alan Jope said on July 22, that the company remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel and that it was not involved in Ben & Jerry’s decision.

On July 27, Anuradha Mittal, the chair of Ben & Jerry’s board of directors, tweeted her first comments on the boycott. She stood by the decision and denied being antisemitic following Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s statement that the boycott is a “shameful surrender to antisemitism.”

“I am proud of @benandjerrys for taking a stance to end sale of its ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” she tweeted. “This action is not anti-Semitic. I am not anti-Semitic. The vile hate that has been thrown at me does [not] intimidate me. Pls work for peace – not hatred!” (Mittal did not detail the “vile hate” she has received, though critics of the decision have attacked her on social media.)

The same day, Unilever sent letters to several American Jewish repudiating antisemitism and disavowing the BDS movement.

“We look forward to investing in our business in Israel long into the future,” said the letters, which were sent to the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, both of which had criticized Ben & Jerry’s West Bank pullout. “We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position.”

Unilever faces the prospect of being penalized financially in states with anti-boycott laws. As a result of a campaign since the mid-2010s led by center-right and Christian pro-Israel groups, 33 states, including Arizona, have passed laws or issued executive orders targeting the BDS movement against Israel, according to a database maintained by Lara Friedman on behalf of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Americans for Peace Now, groups that oppose the anti-boycott legislation. Among the 33 states with anti-BDS laws, 21 have measures that target boycotts that include areas controlled by Israel — meaning the West Bank.

It’s unclear whether Ben & Jerry’s pullout from what it considers to be “occupied” territory will fall under the jurisdiction of these laws.

Unilever, the British multinational conglomerate, bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 from its Jewish founders, Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, under a unique arrangement that allows an external board to determine how the company embraces social and political causes.

The last time a major company pulled out of business with Israeli settlements was in 2018, when Airbnb announced it would stop listing lodgings from settlements. Lawsuits alleging discriminatory practices were filed in the U.S., and Airbnb stood down within months, settling with the litigants.

That may not be possible in the case of Ben & Jerry’s: The ice cream ban on sales in the West Bank affects both Israelis and Palestinians in the territory, while Airbnb’s plans focused only on settlements. JN