On our way to a family vacation in Vermont, we stopped off at Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. After taking the tour and indulging in samples, we visited its graveyard of discontinued flavors. There we saw a tombstone for each discontinued flavor.
With Unilever’s action last week, we can now add the discontinued flavor of BDS.
When Ben and Jerry’s was sold to Unilever, it still was able to maintain an independent board. It was this entity that forbade the sale of Ben and Jerry’s in the West Bank. This was not only a contemptible policy in line with BDS — that’s Boycott, Divest, and Sanction, an economic punishment aimed at Israel — but it unexpectedly became bad for business.
More than a dozen states, including New Jersey, had passed anti-BDS legislation and began dumping Unilever sock from their pension plan portfolios .As a result, Unilever’s stock plunged more than 20% during the six months following Ben and Jerry’s announcement, and the company posted a $26 billion loss last January. Pressured by Nelson Peltz, who has a major stake in Unilever, serves on its board, and also happens to chair the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Unilever sold its stake in Israel. The purchaser, Avi Zinger, will sell Ben and Jerry’s with Hebrew and Arab lettering in Israel, including the West Bank, as he has done for more than 34 years .
In its corporate statement, Unilever reported that under the terms of its sale of Ben and Jerry’s, it still had financial and operational authority, which was invoked to generate the sale. Unilever “rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination and intolerance,” according to the statement. It also castigated Ben and Jerry’s for taking political positions, including rebuking President Joe Biden for sending thousands f more troops to Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it “fanning the flames of war.” This demands the question of whether corporations should get involved in the daily grind of partisan politics in our fractured society, in which we have the reds, the blues, and just tired teams, as David French recently noted.
BDS has been a rallying cry on many college campuses. Singling out Israel, a democratic multiethnic oasis — which has its flaws, as does any democracy — in an authoritarian neighborhood, when dozens of other countries, led by China, repress their peoples, is antisemitic.
This abomination was magnified by the Harvard Crimson’s acceptance of BDS in a recent editorial. There were letters signed by dozens protesting this decision. As a rejoinder, the ideological godfather of BDS, Omar Barghouti, enumerated his usual cavalcade of sins Israel has allegedly committed, with the usual “isms” associated with them. But what was most revealing was his end game. After all, BDS is a means to an end. He wrote, “A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically…. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
So the elimination of the Jewish state is the overall goal of BDS; that’s straight from its founder’s mouth. In addition to its abhorrent behavior, creating a hostile environment for Jewish college students, the BDS movement would be genocidal if Barghouti’s vision is ever actualized.
There’s another aspect of BDS that is not emphasized. When Oxfam, the British advocacy group dedicated to combatting global poverty, castigated the actress Scarlett Johansson for her work in promoting Soda Stream, although one of its factories is based in the West Bank, the negative fallout impelled Soda Stream to close that factory. This resulted in the loss of 500 good-paying jobs. So in its feel good moment, Oxfam contributed to increasing poverty.
According to the Algemeiner, the number of Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements skyrocketed from 153,000 to 204,000, an increase of 33% in a single quarter. Despite the Palestinian Authority’s opposition, Palestinian workers in settlements went up from 22,400 to 31,000 during this same period, an increase of 38%. Conversely, the number of workers in the Arab areas of the West Bank and Gaza decreased from 939,000 to 904,000 in the first quarter. And the wages paid to workers in Israel was more than double what is paid in Arab sectors.
It’s indeed ironic that as more and more Arab countries recognize and engage with Israel on security and economic development, naïve and misguided American students and faculty try to destabilize the Israeli economy, which employs 200,000 Palestinians. These Arab states won’t allow the intransigence and dysfunctional Palestinian leadership to be an obstacle for improving their economies by its alliance with Israel. They have to live with the responsibility of improving the lives of their populace. Six thousand miles away, supporters of BDS and their enablers need not be concerned with the negative repercussions their movement espouses, but can luxuriate in their fantasy that they are playing a role in improving the lot of humanity.
This fantasy reminds me of the infamous quote made by Lincoln Steffens after his return from the Bolshevik Russia: ”I have seen the future and it works.” Wishful thinking won’t make it so.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.