Tuesday Talk*: Licking Justice (Update)

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, 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.

44 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: Licking Justice (Update)

    1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

      Still the best ad ever made? *

      *No, olds, ads made before the Clinton administration don’t count. No one remembers back that far anyway.

  1. John Barleycorn

    They didn’t respond? *

    Ya figure, it was the part about the annexation of their ice cream company or did you go a bit too far with the comparative analysis of the new and old heath “crunch” ?

    P.S. if you need a cream separator there is a auction I am attending this saturday that has a dandy McCormick separator on the block. Want me to put in a bid for you?

    *You should start posting these letters you write to companies at SJ. Can’t wait to see the SHJ letterhead….

      1. John Barleycorn

        EMAIL?! No one reads emails…

        And here I was thinking it was a lawyer-ish, novel in the third person epically condensed to four pages…

        I am gonna ask around at the four estate auction this saturday and ask if folks are still getting better traction with snail mail, when it comes to such correspondence….

        An email, go figure…..No wonder the heath crunch is gone!

        1. Losintrader

          Not to worry JB ,SHG prints his email and sends it certified, RRR. Lawyers gotta lawyer,

          1. Guitardave

            The best thing that band ever did was making it much easier to figure out who I didn’t want to hang out with in high school.

  2. Miles

    Not to get all serious here (esp after Weird Al, thanks Howl), but we’re looking at a trend toward the politicization and polarization of everything. Not just politics, law and education, but which ice cream we’re allowed to eat to signal which tribe we belong to and which tribe we hate.

    The minefield will extend to the supermarket, auto dealer and nobody can buy from Wal Mart unless they’re literally Hitler. And if all goes according to plan, only righteous businesses will survive and heretics will starve to death.


        Welcome to Rednecks Anonymous. Our mantra…If it moves and it’s not supposed to, Duct Tape. If it doesn’t move and it’s supposed to, WD-40.

    1. Jeff Davidson

      Ben and Jerry’s gets flak from the most woke for not wholeheartedly endorsing BDS, and they get flak from LEOs for supporting Mumia. Politically speaking, everyone should buy from them and no one should buy from them. Ice-cream speaking, I am happy to have some Chubby Hubby whenever possible.

  3. B. McLeod

    I have never purchased any products from this company. I have not visited, nor am I likely to visit, “the occupied Palestinian territory.”

    Accordingly, I will evaluate these useless buggers in terms of their domestic and local impacts. Clearly, the racist, white supremacist rat scum have shown no concern (because they have no concern) over pushing their white colonialist product in the occupied territories of the 574 indigenous tribes overrun by the “manifest destiny” of the colonialist United States. Therefore, on the same basis put forward by the BLM and Palestinian activists (i.e., consistency in their display of support for racial justice) I demand that this company cease all operations in North America. This is a DEMAND, not a request,and I vow to forego all patronage of their vile, racist enterprise until they comply.

      1. B. McLeod

        I suppose one could use chokeberries and strawberries for such a purpose, but those that fall into my possession never make it past the fermenter.

        1. Skink

          Having had more than one case involving Hansen’s (hey, it’s a practice), stewed is the way to go. Dillo sushi will earn a round of antibiotics, but cooked to crap won’t. I suggest red wine and removing the tire rubber before stewing.

  4. MT

    For the people who think that this is ridiculous, was the boycott movement against apartheid South Africa ridiculous as well? You may think that the situation in the West Bank is not comparable, but many people around the world do. So the question is: how bad does a political problem need to be to boycott, or should corporations deal with every country ranging from Switzerland to North Korea?

    1. SHG Post author

      Well, if many people around the world do, why bother thinking when you can instead spew ignorant nonsense?

      1. MT

        Coca-cola cut ties with South Africa over apartheid (see link in below comment). Were they wrong to do so? Or is it only political causes that Scott Greenfield deems to be dire enough that corporations are allowed to boycott without mockery? Some people believe that kicking Palestinians out of their homes and then bulldozing them on a daily basis is a terrible crime, and the US government’s slavish devotion to Israel leaves private action as the only viable route of enacting change.

        1. SHG Post author

          First, your other comment was trashed because links aren’t permitted here. Second, it wasn’t Skink who missed the point. Third, don’t project your paradigm of good and evil onto me. Spew your idiocy elsewhere.

          1. Miles

            Do they just refuse to think or are they incapable of thinking? I can’t imagine how fucking bad they must be as lawyers if the best they can do is a string of logical fallacies.

            1. SHG Post author

              While I don’t know if MT is a lawyer, my sense is that they’re fully capable of thinking when an issue doesn’t touch on their religion, and are completely unable to do so when it does. It’s not that they’re inherently stupid, but are so deeply indoctrinated into their delusional grasp of reality that they can’t see beyond it.

          2. MT

            You said on a previous Tueasday Talk that links are permitted on these points only. And again the question is why is it good for coca-cola to cut ties with apartheid South Africa, but not Ben and Jerries in the Occupied Territories? Skink did miss the point.

            1. SHG Post author

              You’re right. I forgot this was a TT and links are permitted. For that, I apologize. As for your persistent attempt to analogize Israel and South Africa, give it up. You’re free to believe any horseshit you want, but it’s absurd and you’ve wasted enough of my bandwidth with your nonsense. Peace out, kid.

    2. Skink

      How is it possible to fail equivalence so badly? Is directly protesting against a bad government the same as protesting against a company selling stuff, even ice cream, to the people of a country you decide is bad?

      But why stop with ice cream? You typed those 60-or-so words with a device: phone, laptop, desktop, tablet. Whether it’s from Apple, Samsung or whatever maker, they’re sold in a country you detest. You used an application to get to this here Hotel. It’s also used in that detestable country, along with every other on your device. Why not give them all up? Will your morality play carry you that far?

  5. Curtis

    I thought ice cream was supposed to be comfort food, not a political statement. If I am trying make my worries go away, I do not want to be considering the political impact of my rocky road.

    Or perhaps, twitting about my organic, sugar-free, non-dairy, victim-approved, tasteless frozen concoction will get me social approval. (But there will always that hidden B&J to eat out of the cartoon for when I really need it.)

    1. L. Phillips

      I’m waiting for the bitching and moaning about refrigeration and “climate whatever the hook is this year”. Get your ice cream warm and runny straight from the cow! Oh, wait. Never mind. Brain fart. I spent most of today on horseback helping a neighbor gather up his cows. Ibuprofen take me away,

  6. Jake

    The only right thing Uniliver could do about Ben & Jerry’s (and any other subbrand they own that is shoving ~100 grams of sugar per container into your soup cooler) is to eliminate them.

  7. Dan J

    I went to the ben&jerry’s factory in the late 90s. I am not much of an ice cream person, but as a kid it was fun to see the machines squirting out ice cream. And we got a bunch of free samples, which was cool even though I didn’t like them.

    If Ben&Jerry want to shoot themselves in the foot (or head) that is there prerogative I guess.

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