I love Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Granted, they don’t make the most intersectional flavor ever, Maple Walnut, but they make some other delicious flavors.** It’s dense. It’s creamy. It’s got lots of fun stuff in there. Yes, it’s very expensive, but some things are worth it. Plus, Jerry’s got a cool last name.
The brand started as a hippy approach to capitalism, projecting a vibe that supported liberal causes and enjoyed the trappings of the age, like tie-dyed shirts and reflected in it’s motto, “Peace, Love and Ice Cream,” Ben and Jerry made their way from Long Island to Oberlin to Burlington, Vermont, where the ’60s never went out of style. Social consciousness was always a part of their corporate psyche, which was fine because they made really great ice cream.
Even though the company was sold to Unilever in 2000, it maintained its connection to its hippy roots, whether because it believed or it had proven a successful brand. Ben and Jerry were gone, fabulously wealthy no doubt but no longer involved in the company that bore their names.
Since then, social consciousness has morphed into what’s called social justice today, a very different animal where the universe is separated into good and evil. This created a bit of a problem for Ben & Jerry’s when all they wanted to do was promote mint ice cream.
[W]hen Ben & Jerry’s asked, ”Any mint lovers out there?” user @husammunism spoke up — but not about favorite flavors.
Offering an opinion on the company’s politics, this user wrote: “Will never buy Ben and Jerry’s until I hear you all stop doing business in illegal settlements stealing Palestinian land and contributing to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”
The ratio got worse from there.
The criticism of the brand coalesced on May 19 with a call by a social justice group called Decolonize Burlington in Vermont for Americans to boycott the company, according to the Burlington Free Press. Local activists have been lobbying against Ben & Jerry’s Israel ties since at least 2012.
“If Ben & Jerry’s wants to profit off of anti-racist messaging, they need to be consistent,” Decolonize Burlington said in its post. “The BLM movement has publicly supported the Palestinian cause. It’s time for Ben & Jerry’s to divest from their holdings in Israel.”
The mint twit was on May 18th, after which the twitter account fell silent. Until yesterday, when this twit appeared.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) July 19, 2021
Ben & Jerry’s, whose revenues come from the sale of ice cream, had a problem. It had a company in Israel manufacturing and distributing its ice cream, which meant it had contractual obligations. But it didn’t want its brand, the hippy-dippy Vermont ice cream guys, to become the enemy of Black Lives Matters and criminal justice reform activists. What do these groups have to do with Palestinians and BDS, you wonder? Nothing, which means nothing when it’s on the list of sides the woke must take.
This put Ben & Jerry’s in an untenable situation, a company disinclined to boycott Israel, and contractually bound not to do so (remember, liberals supported Israel for a long time before the progressives with no grasp of history decided they were an “apartheid nation”). So the company was forced to make a choice, which could have been no choice on the one hand or appease those with whom they sided on their core missions before the grocery clerks took control. They chose to split the baby.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
With that, an unabashedly political company that over the years has embraced the Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform movements also appeared to offer support to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
But the company emphasized that it was not boycotting the country as a whole — “we will stay in Israel,” it said — just withdrawing from markets in the West Bank.
Israelis were outraged on the one hand. BDS supporters were not placated on the other, and instead saw this as the incentive to push harder.
While boycott promoters hailed Ben & Jerry’s announcement, they immediately made it clear it was not enough.
“We warmly welcome their decision but call on Ben & Jerry’s to end all operations in apartheid Israel,” said a post on the Twitter account of the Palestinian B.D.S. National Committee.
Woke capitalism is mostly seen as a sham to get the stupid little shits to buy overpriced and poorly constructed disposable goods, and works for the purpose of stemming the screamers from condemning a brand with the pejorative of the moment. But here, the demand isn’t concealed behind a cute commercial where every family is either mixed race or same gender, but that they cease selling their product in places and to people who are deemed enemies.
Where does this go? Granted, Ben & Jerry’s is a private company, fully entitled (subject to contract) to cease operations in the occupied West Bank or Israel altogether if that’s its choice, but what if it was pressured by the threat of cancellation to pull out of Texas because of its voting law, not because it had any problem with selling Chubby Hubby, but found itself caught in its effort to thread the needle of social justice demands while maintaining its brand?
The easy answer is that anybody can boycott anything they want, and smear it with its failure to do whatever they demand it do, and any private company can respond to those demands any way it wants. But in a nation, and world, where secondary boycotts and scorched-earth politics has become a substitute for persuasion and the rational exchange of ideas, what are the greater social and legal implications of using the tools (weapons?) of social influence to destroy businesses that fail to go woke, or go too woke, or find themselves, as Ben & Jerry’s now does, caught in the middle?
Ben & Jerry’s withdrawal from the occupied territories will not take effect immediately, as its current contract with the company that produces its ice cream in Israel does not expire until the end of next year. And that vendor, Ben & Jerry’s Israel, moved quickly to disassociate itself from the company.
“We will continue to sell all over Israel!” it declared, adding, “We call on the Israeli government and to all consumers: Do not allow Israel to be boycotted.”
What would have happened to Ben & Jerry’s if it just responded, “we just make ice cream and love everybody”? Is that going to be possible going forward? If not, does it matter?
Update: Apparently, the Ben & Jerry’s response came from its parent, Unilever, and the B&J board does not agree.
“The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the OPT) does not reflect the position of the independent board, nor was it approved by the independent board,” said the board in a separate statement to NBC. “By taking a position and publishing a statement without the approval of the independent board on an issue directly related to Ben & Jerry’s social mission and brand integrity, Unilever and its CEO at Ben & Jerry’s are in violation of the spirit and the letter of the acquisition agreement.”
Independent boards are independent. H/T Keith Kaplan
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.
*Its Heath Bar Crunch was one of my favorites until it replaced actual Heath Bar with some organically sourced, non-GMO, Faitrade Heath Bar, which tasted like burnt fake Heath Bar. I wrote them a letter about it. They never responded. I was crushed.