By Matthew Weinstein
Here in Tel Aviv, the announcement by Ben & Jerry’s that they are planning to end sales of their products in West Bank settlements was greeted with quite a furor. No major company has made an announcement like that since Airbnb’s failed attempt in 2018 to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories. Within 24 hours after the Ben & Jerry’s announcement, I saw numerous stories in the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv, as well as TV and radio stories galore.
The right-wing campaign to conflate boycotting settlements with the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement has largely succeeded. As a result, most Israelis are as outraged over the former as over the latter.
That’s a shame, because the difference is critical. Boycotting settlements in the occupied territories is absolutely not BDS and certainly not antisemitism. The global BDS movement makes no bones about what its goal is: Boycotting Israel with the aim of carrying out a Palestinian “right of return,” which would mean eliminating the world’s only Jewish state. Boycotting the settlements is completely different. It aims to end the occupation, which would strengthen, not weaken or eliminate Israel, and reduce antisemitism worldwide.
Benjamin Netanyahu is, fortunately, no longer Israel’s prime minister, and Israel no longer has the most extremist, right-wing government in its 73-year history. The Kahanists brought into the Knesset this year by Bibi’s electoral matchmaking are, thank G-d, in the opposition and not in the governing coalition. But the “Sovereignty” movement to expand settlements and even to unilaterally annex part or all of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria is still going strong. And it still represents the greatest internal threat today to Israel’s future as the Jewish, democratic state envisioned by Israel’s founders.
In fact, even though the Netanyahu/Donald Trump attempt at de jure annexation was defeated last year, de facto or creeping annexation is still a fact of Israeli life and a threat to Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.
The American Jewish community has a critical role to play in responding to this very real and present danger to Israel’s future.
As explained by retired Shin Bet head and Israel Navy commander Ami Ayalon at the 2019 J Street conference, “When we say, ‘Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh,’ which means ‘All Israel are responsible for each other,’ we are in a way saying, ‘You [American Jews] have the right, and, in times of crisis like today, when you see the writing on the wall and we do not, or cannot, you also have the duty to stand up and tell us your truth. This is the real meaning of mutual responsibility.'”
We will all come to different conclusions about exactly how to carry out that mutual responsibility. The company founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield has decided that their way is to announce that they will no longer sell their ice cream in West Bank settlements. This is certainly not a perfect response. Personally, while I do not purchase the products of isolated or extremist settlers like those in Ofra, Tekoa or Hebron, I don’t have a problem with Efrat or Maaleh Adumim or the Golan Heights. Nonetheless, Ben & Jerry’s is fully within their moral and legal rights to make the decision that they have. In fact, their decision is identical to that of McDonald’s-Israel, which has never made a secret of its intention to never open a location in a West Bank settlement.
The justification is simple. The West Bank settlements are not Israel. And in fact they are an obstacle to achieving the peace and security that Israel needs to make it through the next 73 years and beyond. So I say, bravo to Ben & Jerry’s for having the chutzpah to stand up to the Netanyahus of the world and draw a line in the sand somewhere.
Here’s hoping that the years to come will see more of America’s Jewish community act with Zionist zeal and democratic determination to help Israel climb down from the tree that right-wing policies have gotten it stuck in — rather than helping it dig itself so deep in a hole that even we won’t be able to rescue Israel in the end.
Matthew Weinstein, a graduate of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, is a lifelong Baltimorean, proudly progressive, proudly Zionist American Jew who divides his time between Baltimore, Salt Lake City and Tel Aviv.