The real question raised by the Ben and Jerry’s affair is this: Which Israel do you love?
But isn’t there is only one Israel? That depends on your point of view.
Let me digress for a bit and talk about the United States. Some say that denying people their rights based on factors like race and religion is un-American. Others say that it’s as American as apple pie (which is not strictly American), that the United States has been doing so since its inception.
In a sense, they’re both right. In practice, the United States is a country where rights have always been denied, and systematically. In principle, the United States was founded on certain precepts, first and foremost that all are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, laid out in a document drafted by Thomas Jefferson, who himself did not live up to the ideals he expressed. At its best, though, the United States has attempted to live up to those ideals, as when it passed the Voting Rights Act.
It is this second version of the United States that I love, and I plan to continue loving it as long as we still can aspire to these ideals.
The same is true of Israel. In its Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, its founders declared that the state would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” The same document accepted the U.N. resolution that the land then known as Palestine would be partitioned into a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state.
This was, in my opinion, the only reasonable position to take. Both peoples have religious claims on the land, but trying to adjudicate claims on religious grounds where the parties do not share a religion is folly. Both peoples have histories in the land, but neither’s historical claim negates the other’s.
It is the Israel that was founded on these principles that I love, and it still exists, more or less, within the “Green Line.”
The Green Line is the armistice line as of the end of the 1948/49 war, so called because it was drawn in green on maps. It has been recognized as the effective border of Israel by the Palestinian Authority, the Arab states, and most of the world, except for certain right-wingers, primarily in Israel and the United States. For these people, the West Bank, or much of it, is effectively part of Israel.
It makes a lot of difference whether you conceive of Israel as ending at the Green Line or not. If it ends at the Green Line, it is a democratic state where the rights of the Palestinians are respected (at least in theory). If not, it is an undemocratic state where Jews have rights and Palestinians do not. This is not just a theoretical distinction; it is one that has profound effects on the daily lives of Palestinians, and on the character of Israel. It is also a violation of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.
The last several Israeli governments have adopted the more geographically inclusive definition of the State of Israel (let’s call it the “Greater Israel” definition) by engaging in activities that amount to the de facto annexation of the West Bank: allowing the building of illegal Israeli settlements, the demolition of Palestinian property, and so on. In conjunction with these activities, the Israeli government and others have engaged in a propaganda campaign to get the world to accept their definition of what constitutes the State of Israel.
Here’s where Ben and Jerry’s comes in. Ben and Jerry’s announced its intention to stop selling its products in the illegal settlements in the West Bank, while continuing to sell them in Israel proper. In anticipation of such a move, Israel and some of its partisans in the United States had contrived to get U.S. state laws passed that called for divestment from companies boycotting Israel, including, in the language of New Jersey’s law, “companies operating in … Israeli-controlled territory.” This phrase, by equating occupied territory with Israel, implicitly adopts the Greater Israel definition of Israel. These laws are now being applied to Ben and Jerry’s parent company by at least some states, including New Jersey.
Furthermore, members of the current Israeli government, including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog, neither known as a right-winger, as well as many members of established Jewish American institutions, have been clamoring to denounce Ben and Jerry’s as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic, neither of which is remotely true. These denunciations imply acceptance of the Greater Israel definition.
All of this seems to be an underhanded way of suggesting that of course, all right-thinking people support the Greater Israel definition and always have. This is anything but the truth.
Acceptance of the concept of a two-state solution, including a negotiated end to the occupation of the West Bank and a mutually agreed treatment of the settlements, either by abolishing them or by legitimizing them in exchange for other territory, until recently was the policy of both major parties in the U.S. and an idea to which even fairly right-wing parties in Israel at least gave lip service. It is also a concept that goes back to Israel’s founding document and the U.N. resolution it endorsed, and still is the only one yet proposed that would allow Israel to survive and thrive as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state. Congressman Andy Levin (D-Mich.) has recently introduced the Two-State Solution Bill, which, if adopted, would put the United States firmly and concretely behind this approach.
Rather than punishing Ben and Jerry’s for taking a principled stand in favor of a sustainable Israel, we should encourage our members of Congress to pass Congressman Levin’s bill. This is our best hope for the future of the Israel that I, and many others, love.
Martin J. Levine of Maplewood is a volunteer leader of J Street and a member of its New Jersey chapter’s steering committee.