Ben & Jerry’s – A Major Dispute

Within the context of the recent surge in antisemitism, a decision by American ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s to boycott the disputed territories generally known as the West Bank has become a major issue and created a storm in the worlds of politics and business.

At its core, this issue is about international pressure on Israel to relinquish any claims to what many people refer to as the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But there is widespread ignorance of the fact that these territories cover the regions of Judea and Samaria within Israel – the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.

Indeed, Israeli law association Shurat HaDin has recently submitted a request to register a new company called ‘Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream of Judea and Samaria’ – a move that could result in Ben & Jerry’s losing ownership of its brand in the disputed territories.

Nitsana Darshan Leitner of the Shurat Hadin Law Centre explained that Ben & Jerry’s announcement they no longer intend to sell their ice cream in this area means that they have effectively abandoned their trademark in Judea and Samaria. Under American law, trademarks are only protected when companies actively sell their products in an area.

It seems that Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, recognised potential problems early on and disowned the move to boycott Israel. Unilever’s management realise that they could suffer financially wherever states or countries have anti-boycott laws.

Within the political storm created, Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, described Ben & Jerry’s move as “economic terrorism,” and the Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, called it “a shameful surrender to anti-Semitism.”

Criticism like that has prompted the chairwoman of Ben & Jerry’s board, Anuradha Mittal, to reject claims that the move was antisemitic. She tweeted:

“I am proud of @benandjerrys for taking a stance to end the sale
of its ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
This action is not anti-Semitic. I am not anti-Semitic.

But her claim is a central part of a larger dispute. Many Israelis and Jews around the world see the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic to the core. This explanation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks may help people understand their reasons for doing so.