Update, July 19, 2021: Ben & Jerry’s has tweeted! Huzzah! After a two-month silence, after a post about mint ice cream turned into a referendum on the ice cream brand’s policy of selling Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia in illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.
“Ben & Jerry’s will end sales of our ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the tweet read (twice). There was also a link to an official statement on the Ben & Jerry’s website.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” the statement began, before explaining that at the end of the year, Ben & Jerry’s will not renew its licensing agreement with its longtime Israeli distributor. Instead, it will be partnering with a new distributor to bring Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Israelis, but only Israelis who stay in Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s executives were made aware of sales to the settlements as long ago as 2013, but, apparently Twitter abuse has powers that a thoughtful, factual corporate presentation does not.
Original post, July 16, 2021: True to the hippie roots of its founders, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has always maintained that a commitment to social justice has been central to its brand. Even after the company was sold to the ginormous corporation Unilever, it retained the right to churn out ice cream flavors supporting issues it cares about, including voting rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, campaign finance reform, and refugee rights. In January, the brand’s Twitter account delivered a blistering condemnation of the rioters who stormed the capitol on January 6 and of Donald Trump, who encouraged them.
But since mid-May, The Boston Globe has observed, the Ben & Jerry’s Twitter account has remained silent. The last post came on May 18:
“Any mint lovers out there?” the tweet asked. “Browse all 7 NEW Topped flavors.”
The response was probably not what the Ben & Jerry’s social team had hoped it would be. Instead of a benign discussion about the merits of mint, the conversation took an unexpected turn: “I love mint almost as much as I love freedom for Palestine,” one user tweeted. “Until you stand by your supposed principles instead of just using liberal guilt to promote your products, I’ll buy other brands. Because to do otherwise would be to help you profit from suffering and that is shameful.”
What does mint ice cream have to do with Palestine? Well, for the past 30 years, Ben & Jerry’s has licensed a factory in Israel to produce and sell ice cream throughout the country, including in the illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories. This was the result of a friendship between Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Ben Cohen and Israeli businessman Avi Zinger. And for the past 20 years, a group of activists called Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP), based in Burlington, Ben & Jerry’s home base, has been protesting the arrangement. In 2013, it presented a report to Ben & Jerry’s executives that documented the company’s distribution of ice cream in the settlements. None of the executives seemed to be aware of the issue, nor did they appear to do anything to rectify it.
So why did this effort by VTJP eight years later prompt such a strong reaction? Well, on May 18, the Israeli army and militant Palestinian groups including Hamas were firing bombs at each other. The bulk of the deaths and injuries, however, were on the Palestinian side, and so was the sympathy of many people on the left side of the political spectrum, the people who usually support the same causes as Ben & Jerry’s.
“We’ve tried to appeal to them based on their mission of love, peace, equality. But they ignored us,” Wafic Faour, the driving force behind VTJP’s Ben & Jerry’s campaign, told the Globe. “Now, public opinion is changing, especially due to the younger generations who have taken to social media and protests and come to our aid. They can no longer ignore us.”
Since VTJP’s anti-mint action, Ben & Jerry’s social media accounts have been dead silent. As the Globe notes, it uncharacteristically failed to comment on Pride Month, Juneteenth, or the anniversary of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. There is now a twitter hashtag #HasBenAndJerrysTweetedYet, and another activist group, Decolonize Burlington, is calling for a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s until the company stops doing business in the settlements.
Though individual members of the Ben & Jerry’s board of directors have publicly criticized the Israeli occupation, the company itself declined to respond when the Globe requested a comment.
It’s nice to think that somewhere, deep in the bowels of Ben & Jerry’s HQ, executives and board members are having some hard conversations about the cost of doing business in the Israeli settlements. But this extended silence also seems contrary to everything Ben & Jerry’s has always claimed to stand for.