A Pennsylvania legislator says Ben and Jerry’s BDS-inspired ban on selling their products in parts of Israel violates state law, and he’s asking the Wolf administration to act.
The Vermont-based ice cream company known for its progressive politics announced Monday it would stop licensing its products for sale in disputed parts of Israel like East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” the company said in a statement.
The move gives a boost to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which celebrated the news. The group Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a major BDS proponent, called it “huge” adding, “The tide of history is turning.”
Six thousand miles from Jerusalem, state Rep. Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne) is also speaking out, telling Delaware Valley Journal he spoke to the Israeli Consulate Monday night and is now urging Pennsylvania officials to act.
“Ben & Jerry’s is stoking the flames of antisemitism when they say ‘we’re not going to serve Jewish people in these areas,'” Kaufer said. “And the BDS movement says ‘From the river to the sea.’ In other words, no Jews anywhere in Israel.
“There is no question this is wholly anti-Semitic and against the values of our country and our commonwealth.”
Kaufer says the actions of Unilever, the corporate conglomerate that owns Ben and Jerry’s, violate a state anti-BDS law passed in 2016 with overwhelming legislative support. He’s sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and state Treasurer Stacy Garrity asking them to enforce the law that prohibits the state from contracting with companies that boycott Israel.
Act 163 of 2016 states a company contracted by the commonwealth is not permitted to be involved in a boycott, or to refuse “to deal with a person or firm when the action is based on race, color, religion, gender or national affiliation of the person or entity.”
“While Ben & Jerry’s surrendered to a continuous and aggressive campaign from extreme anti-Jewish and anti-Israel groups, doesn’t mean we should condone it. We must work together, enforce the law and stand with Israel,” Kaufer wrote.
Other area leaders from the Jewish community are speaking out as well.
“This decision of Ben & Jerry’s gives credence to the BDS Movement, which doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist,” said Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “It fails to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for their promotion of hatred, incitement, and terrorism. Ben & Jerry’s has branded themselves as a company that has a commitment to social options, combatting social injustice and this action does the complete opposite and hurts the very people they want to help.”
Rabbi Lance Sussman PhD., senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, offered a somewhat different view.
“What’s problematic about it, of course, is it plays into the hands of not only the people who are fighting Israeli control of the West Bank but of those who ultimately want to see the State of Israel destroyed,” Sussman said. “There could have been other ways of going about doing this. They could have stayed in the West Bank but invested in humanitarian programs, reconciliation programs. So by going to a boycott mode what they’re doing is strengthening the hands of BDS, the very radical opposition, the dangerous opposition to the State of Israel.”
It also raises the stakes for Israel by extending a BDS boycott beyond businesses located in the West Bank or Gaza, instead targeting a business located inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory is located in the southern part of Israel — ironically an area heavily impacted by Hamas rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.
According to a Jerusalem Post report, “Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors wanted to boycott Israel in its entirety, but was stopped from doing so by the ice-cream maker’s CEO and the British-based parent company Unilever.”
As a result, Kaufer says, all 35 U.S. states with anti-BDS laws need to invoke their legislation, not just Pennsylvania.
“We overwhelmingly passed this law with bipartisan support and now it’s time for us to act,” Kaufer said.