Ben & Jerry’s could be the first test of American anti-BDS laws – The Forward

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Ben & Jerry’s announcement on Monday that it would cease sales in the occupied West Bank could cause great trouble for the parent company as it tests American laws to exclude companies that boycott Israel from state government contracts and pension funds.

More than thirty states have passed laws designed to prevent boycotts of Israel by punishing companies that refuse to do business with the Jewish state, and some proponents of those laws now say they can also apply to companies like ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s those who refuse to do business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank should apply.

“Selective boycotts are just as illegal as total boycotts,” said Marc Stern, chief legal officer of the American Jewish Committee, which advocates laws designed to curb the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

The company’s decision is upsetting Jewish Twitter, pro-Israel supporters have inundated the company with demands to reset it, and several Jewish markets in New York and elsewhere have decided to discontinue the product.

But Jeremy Ben Ami, president of liberal pro-Israel group J Street, said critics were wrong to view Ben & Jerry’s move as a boycott of Israel because the settlements are not a part of Israel, and this is calling for economic equality without political equality is one untenable position for the Jewish establishment and pro-Israel organizations.

“Either all of this belongs to Israel, in which case everyone living in the occupied territories should have equal rights, or there is a difference,” said Ben-Ami. “You can’t have your ice cream and eat it too.”

Stern said several states – including New York, New Jersey and Illinois – go further than most and have laws prohibiting state agencies from entering into contracts with companies that refuse to do business with Israel or with “Israel-controlled territories.” “And state pensions forbid any money to be invested in them.

If these laws were applied to Ben & Jerry’s case, it could have implications way beyond whether or not workers in Albany state cafeterias can reach into a bowl of Cherry Garcia. The Vermont company is owned by Unilever, a London-based multinational with $ 50 billion in revenue from sales of products such as Hellman’s mayonnaise, Lipton tea and Dove personal care products.

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, wrote a letter to the governors of the 35 states that have passed some form of anti-boycott laws, saying that “rapid and decisive action must be taken to address such discriminatory and discriminatory acts.” to counteract anti-Semitic acts ”.

Critics, however, resented the notion that boycotting Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which are widely considered illegal under international law, amounts to participating in the BDS movement, which is effectively calling for the end of Israel’s status as a Jewish state.

Ben & Jerry’s announcement that it would not renew its license with an Israeli company that manufactures and sells its products in the West Bank also stated that it would maintain its presence in Israel “through another agreement,” one line apparently was inserted by Unilever without consulting the independent board of directors of Ben & Jerry.

Meera Shah, a senior attorney at Palestine Legal, said details of the laws intended to crack down on the BDS movement were less important than their goal of cracking down on activism against Israel. Palestine Legal, an American non-profit organization, pursues and combats anti-BDS laws.

“Israel and its allies use anti-boycott laws to slander the advocacy of Palestine, regardless of the actual provisions, applicability, or constitutionality of the law – or the focus of activism,” Shah wrote in an email. “Prosecuting an ice cream company for supporting Palestinian rights shows how desperate Israel and its allies are about not accepting responsibility for human rights abuses.”

The question of whether corporations – or artists, scientists and tourists – can distinguish between Israel and the territory it controls in the West Bank has been at the center of recent debates about Israel’s status as a democracy. Over the past year, human rights organizations have increasingly sought to treat Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as a unit under the control of the Israeli government, with several groups claiming apartheid because Palestinians are not citizens of the Occupied Territories. A recent poll found that 25% of American Jews agree that “Israel is an apartheid state”.

Israel’s supporters counter that both Jews and non-Jews have equal rights in Israel and that the West Bank and Gaza should be viewed as separate regions. But for the purposes of economic activity such distinctions become blurred.

“We want to see Arabs and Jews, whether in the West Bank – Judea and Samaria – or across Israel, treated equally in the economic field,” said Michael Dickson, Israeli director of StandWithUs, who said more than 10,000 of his supporters had Ben & Jerry’s emailed Tuesday asking to reverse its decision.

While Ben & Jerry’s said it would end sales across the West Bank – not just in Jewish settlements – Stern told the American Jewish Committee that the problem is that it is a strategy of placing the blame on a single party to the conflict. While Palestinians in Ramallah may not be able to buy the ice cream, Israel would bear the financial cost of the decision.

“This is supposed to put economic pressure on Israel,” said Stern. “The Palestinians are road kill.”



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