Since Ben & Jerry’s announced in July that it would stop selling ice cream in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the move has been falsely portrayed as a boycott of Israel. In an interview that aired Sunday, the company’s founders explained that is not the case.
“I think Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever are being characterized as boycotting Israel, which is not the case at all,” co-founder Jerry Greenfield told Axios on HBO. “It’s not boycotting Israel in any way.”
Greenfield and Ben Cohen sold Ben & Jerry’s to the British-based food firm Unilever back in 2000 but still maintain influence over the ice cream company’s activism. Since the settlement ban was announced, several US states have taken steps to divest from Unilever using legislation against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is an international campaign that seeks to pressure Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians through boycotts.
Under most states’ anti-BDS laws, the state must determine that the company is “boycotting Israel” in order to divest funds. Greenfield attributed the false claim by the US states to “misinformation.”
Cohen explained that he and Greenfield favor a two-state solution. “We were always in favor of the two-state solution, [but] the policy of the Israeli government has been to endorse the settlements in the Occupied Territories that keep making it harder and harder to actually have a two-state solution,” he said.
Both US and Israeli officials have accused the ice cream company of anti-semitism over the ban. Cohen called the accusation “absurd” since both he and Greenfield are Jewish. “I’m anti-Jewish? I’m a Jew,” he said.
Israeli officials have urged the governors of the over 30 US states with anti-BDS laws on the books to act against Ben & Jerry’s over its decision, and many are happy to comply. So far, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, and Arizona have taken steps to divest hundreds of millions in pension funds from Unilever, and more could follow.