Axios reported on Tuesday that Israel had launched a “maximum pressure” campaign to pressure Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever to reverse the decision to stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
According to the report, on July 22nd, Israel’s Foreign Ministry sent a cable to diplomatic missions in North America and Europe to start a “pressure campaign” against the ice cream company. The Foreign Ministry wanted diplomats to push for public statements condemning the move and to “encourage public protests in the media and directly with key executives in both companies” that should be amplified by social media.
“We need to make use of the 18 months that are left until the decision comes into force and try to change it. We want to create long-term pressure on Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s by consumers, politicians, and in the press and social media in order to lead to a dialogue with the companies,” the cable said.
The Foreign Ministry instructed the Israeli Embassy in Washington to pressure US states with laws against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to start enforcing them against Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever. Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the US, sent a letter to the governors of over 30 US states with anti-BDS laws urging them to enforce the legislation.
Some states were quick to act on behalf of Israel and have taken steps to divest state funds from Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, including Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey. Israel’s Foreign Ministry also asked its diplomats to engage with mayors, state officials, and members of Congress.
Ben & Jerry’s move won’t come into effect until the end of 2022, and the company plans to keep selling ice cream in Israel, as the decision only applies to the illegal settlements. Israel fears the decision Ben & Jerry’s decision will encourage other companies to also differentiate between Israel and the West Bank settlements.
The reaction by Israel to an ice cream company not selling its product in settlements demonstrates that the state feels threatened by the BDS movement. While Ben & Jerry’s announcement did not mention BDS, the decision was made after years of pressure from BDS activists. The pressure on Ben & Jerry’s increased in the wake of Israel’s latest major bombing campaign in Gaza, which killed over 250 Palestinians, including over 60 children.