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Ben & Jerry's gets praise and scorn after quitting occupied Palestinian territories

Palestinian activists want more clarity on what ice cream brand's future ties to Israel will look like, while pro-Israeli activists vow never to buy its products again
The company said that its commercial operations in the occupied Palestinian territories were 'inconsistent' with its values (Reuters)

Ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s decision to halt its operations in the occupied Palestinian territories has been met with a mixture of praise and derision by both pro-Palestinian and Israeli activists. 

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The brand said it would end sales in the territories after years of campaigning by activists allied with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

In their statement, the company said that the commercial operations were “inconsistent” with its values and that it would not be renewing its licence agreement when it expires at the end of next year.

The decision was cautiously welcomed by activists but one aspect of the company's statement announcing the move has raised eyebrows.

Ben & Jerry’s said they would “stay in Israel through a different arrangement”, without elaborating on what that meant.

The sentence has caught the attention of pro-Palestinian activists and supporters of the BDS movement, who said any continued operation in Israel would inevitably require the ice cream company to operate in occupied East Jerusalem at the minimum. 

"Ben & Jerry’s must fully divest. There is no way an alternative arrangement will ever work," explained Twitter user TheZalameh.

'Progressive except Palestine'

The company, which since its founding in 1978 has championed a number of liberal causes, has faced criticism for selling ice cream produced in Israel in illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and seemingly turning a blind eye to the Palestinian plight.

Ben & Jerry's has been vocal on the Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive causes on social media, but went silent in mid-May after Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

This has led to critics accusing the firm of being "progressive except Palestine".

'The BDS movement welcomes Ben & Jerry’s decision as a decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights'

- BDS movement statement

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, an organisation that works to support Palestinian human rights and end Israeli occupation, said in a statement that Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop sales in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem but continue operating elsewhere was not enough.

Kathy Sapiro, a member of the organisation, said that by continuing to operate in Israel, the company is complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians. 

“By maintaining a presence in Israel, Ben & Jerry’s continues to be complicit in the killing, imprisonment and dispossession of Palestinian people and the flaunting of international law. Israel destroys lives and property in the lands it occupies by force,” she said in a statement

The organisation reiterated its call for Ben & Jerry’s to end its manufacture of products in Israel and for it to issue a statement calling on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands and the building of illegal settlements. 

In a related incident, Palestinian activists also criticised the Associated Press for referring to the occupied-Palestinian territories as "war-won lands" in its story on Ben & Jerry's decision. Activists including the Jerusalem-based Palestinian poet Mohammed El-Kurd called out the news organisation for being "spineless".

The Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza were seized by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and are internationally recognised as belonging to Palestinians.

Israeli criticism

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his disappointment with Ben & Jerry’s decision. “Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy,” he said in a tweet

The irony of Netanyahu calling out Ben & Jerry's by calling for a boycott was not lost on activists, given the former Israeli leaders passionate advocacy against the BDS movement.

"Oh so now boycott is ok?" went one response, which typified the reaction.

Others responded telling him that he should be in jail over corruption charges, which include using public money to indulge in over £1,700 on ice cream, according to his household accounts. The sum equates to around 14kg of ice cream a month. 

Netanyahu and his wife also allocated around £430,000 of taxpayers’ money towards personal cleaning, clothing and food. 

Other pro-Israel activists went for a different approach, comparing the use of green in the firm's statement to the green flag of the Hamas movement. 

Eran Cicurel, a foreign editor with Israel's public broadcaster Kann, suggested the company may have used the colour so that their message resonated with enemies of Israel.

"Just making an observation on graphic design and how this specific message with this specific design resonate with Israeli crowd," he went on to explain.

In response, pro-Palestinian activists and others accused him of being "silly".

'Huge win'

The Adalah Justice Project, a US-based pro-Palestinian campaign group, welcomed the move on Monday, describing it as a "huge win for the Palestinian struggle for freedom".

Adalah added however that it would continue to call for a "complete disengagement from all business dealings with apartheid Israel".

The BDS movement also applauded the decision by Ben & Jerry's and warned the company against continuing to do business in Israel.

“The BDS movement welcomes Ben & Jerry’s decision as a decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights," the movement said in a statement.

"We hope Ben & Jerry’s has understood that, in harmony with its social justice commitments, there can be no business as usual with apartheid Israel."