During an interview on Sunday, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream said that the decision to stop selling their product in Israeli settlements, which the company referred to as "occupied Palestinian territory," was not anti-Israel.
The interview followed an opinion piece published in The New York Times, written by the pair in response to the backlash against the company's decision. Jerry Greenfield told Axios, "I think [the outrage] is largely based on misinformation. I think Ben and Jerry’s and [parent company] Unilever are largely being characterized as boycotting Israel, which is not the case at all."
Despite selling the company decades ago, the two still stay involved with the company, which stated in July that it would no longer be selling its products in what they called "occupied Palestinian territory."
The Ben & Jerry’s license with the Israel franchises ends at the end of 2022 and will not be renewed, though the parent company Unilever has stated that it wishes to continue doing business in Israel and that it opposes the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Israeli law, however, forbids discrimination against Israeli citizens in the settlements, which would make it difficult for Unilever and Ben & Jerrys to continue business with Israel.
The pair was asked by Axios’s Alexi McCammond, why not stop all sales to Israel completely? Bennett Cohen responded, "I disagree with US policy, [but] we couldn’t stop selling in the US."
He continued, "I think it is fine to be involved in a country, be a citizen of a country and to protest some of the country’s actions, and that is essentially what we are doing in regards to Israel. We hugely support Israel’s right to exist, but we are against a particular policy."
Cohen was then asked, if that is the case, why the company does not stop sales in Georgia, which in April adopted new election laws, and why continue to sell in Texas, where new laws make it more difficult for women to have abortions, both policies the two men oppose.
After an extended pause, Cohen shrugged and said, "I don’t know. I mean it is an interesting question. I don’t know what that would accomplish… I think you ask a really good question, and I’d have to sit and think about it a bit."
After being asked about the accusations of antisemitism following the announcement Greenfield said, "No, I wasn’t surprised and yet when it happened it’s still painful. I understand people being upset. It’s a very emotional issue for a lot of people and it’s a very painful issue for a lot of people."
Cohen answered the question more passionately, saying, "[It was] totally fine because it’s absurd. What, I’m anti-Jewish? I’m a Jew. My family is Jewish. My friends are Jewish."
When pressed on the Texas abortion issue, Cohen said, "By that reasoning, we should not sell any ice cream anywhere. I’ve got issues with what’s being done in almost every state and country."
Many Israel advocacy groups have pointed out that Ben & Jerry's leaving the settlements would do the opposite of what they intended and would in fact, leave the Palestinians without the ice cream brand and cause some to lose their jobs at local factories. Yet, the company decided to go ahead with the pullout, even in the face of economic consequences back in the US.
In September, Arizona was the first state to divest from Unilever and Ben & Jerry's in response to the boycott, following the state's anti-BDS legislation. Texas, which has similar laws, officially added the entities to its list of companies that boycott Israel, which is another step toward the state divesting $100 million from the companies. New York, Illinois, Florida, Rhode Island, and Maryland, all with similar legilation on the books, have began formal proceedings to do the same.
The interview echoed a July 2018 interview of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), then a candidate for office, by PBS’s Margaret Hoover on the Firing Line which went viral, after many called out Ocasio-Cortez's seeming ignorance on a topic she had posted about on social media and had previously spoken about.
Hoover asked Ocasio-Cortez, about her position on Israel, to which she responded, "I believe absolutely in Israel’s right to exist. I am supporting a two-state solution… I also think that what people are starting to see, at least in the occupation of Palestine, is an increasing crisis of humanitarian conditions. And that to me is where I tend to come from on this issue."
When Hoover pressed AOC to explain what she meant by "the occupation of Palestine," she responded, "What I meant is, like, the settlements that are increasing in these areas, where Palestinians are facing difficulties in accessing their housing and homes."
Hoover again asked AOC to to expand on the issue. AOC, clearly searching for what to say, said with a laugh, "I am not the expert on the geopolitics on this issue."