Ben & Jerry’s decision to suspend its operations in the occupied Palestinian West Bank is an event that is proving critical to Palestinian efforts, which ultimately aim at holding Israel accountable for its military occupation, apartheid, and war crimes.
By responding to the Palestinian call for boycotting apartheid Israel, the ice cream giant has delivered a blow to Israel’s attempts at criminalizing and, ultimately, ending the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
What differentiates Ben & Jerry’s decision to abandon the ever-growing market of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank from previous decisions by other international corporations is the fact that the ice cream company has made it clear that its move was morally motivated. Indeed, Ben & Jerry’s did not attempt to mask or delude their decision in any way. “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” a statement by the Vermont, US-based company read on July 19.
Expectedly, the Israeli government was infuriated by the decision, especially as it comes after years of a well-funded, state-sponsored, global campaign to discredit, demonize, and altogether outlaw the BDS movement and any similar initiatives that aimed at boycotting Israel.
For years, the Israeli government has viewed the boycott movement as a real, tangible threat. Some Israeli officials went as far as perceiving the ‘delegitimization’ resulting from the boycott campaign as the primary threat faced by Israel at the present time. Well attended conferences were held in Las Vegas, Brussels, Jerusalem, and elsewhere, hundreds of millions of dollars raised, fiery speeches delivered, while politicians and ‘philanthropists’ lined up at many occasions, vowing their undying allegiance to Israel and accusing anyone who dares criticize the ‘Jewish State’ as ‘antisemitic.’
However, Israel's biggest challenge was, and remains, its near-complete reliance on the support of self-serving politicians. True, those ‘friends of Israel’ can be quite helpful in formulating laws that, for example, falsely equate between criticizing Israel and antisemitism, or render the act of boycott illegal, and so on. In fact, many US states and European parliaments have bowed down to Israeli pressure to criminalize the BDS movement and its supporters, whether in the realm of business or even at the level of civil society and individuals. All of this is amounting to very little.
Additionally, Israel doubled down on its attempts to control the narrative in mainstream media, in academia, and wherever the anti-Israeli occupation debate proved to be consequential. Through a Kafkaesque, and often bizarre logic, Israel and its supporters deliberately misinterpreted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, applying it at every platform where criticism of Israel or its Zionist ideology is found. The reckless Israeli dialectics was, sadly - albeit predictably - embraced by many of Israel’s Western benefactors, including the US, Canada, and Italy, among others.
Yet, none of this has ended or even slowed down the momentum of the Palestinian boycott movement. This fact should hardly come as a surprise, for boycott movements are fundamentally designed to circumvent governmental control and to place pressure on politicians, state, and corporate apparatuses, so that they may heed the calls of civil society. Thus, the more Israel attempts to use its allies to illegalize, delegitimize and suppress dissent, the more it actually fuels it.
The above is the secret of the BDS success and Israel’s very Achilles’ heel. By ignoring the boycott campaign, the movement grows exponentially; and by fighting it, using traditional means and predictable language, it grows even faster.
In order to appreciate Tel Aviv’s unsolvable quandary, just marvel at this odd response, which was offered by top Israeli officials in response to Ben & Jerry’s decision. Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, warned the British company that acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, of “severe consequences,” threatening that Israel will take “strong action,” most likely referring to legal action.
But what was truly strange was the language used by Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, who accused Ben & Jerry’s of participating in “a new form of terrorism,” namely, “economic terrorism.” On July 21, Herzog vowed to fight “this boycott and terrorism in any form”.
Note how the Israeli response to the continued success of the Palestinian boycott movement remains confined in terms of options and language. Yet on the legal front, most attempts at indicting BDS activists have repeatedly failed, as the recent court rulings in Washington demonstrated. On the other hand, the act of accusing an ice cream company of ‘terrorism’ deserves some serious examination.
Historically, Israel has situated its anti-Palestinian propaganda war within a handful of redundant terminology, predicated on the claim that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, the security and very existence of which is constantly being threatened by terrorists and undermined by anti-Semites.
The above mantra may have succeeded in shielding Israel from criticism and tarnishing Israel’s victims, the Palestinians. However, it is no longer a guarantor of international sympathy and solidarity. Not only is the Palestinian struggle for freedom gaining global traction, but the pro-Israeli discourse is finally discovering its limitations. By calling an ice cream company ‘terrorist’ for simply adhering to international law, Herzog has revealed the growing lack of credibility and absurdity of the official Israeli language.
But this is not the end of Israel’s problems. Regardless of whether they are branded successful or unsuccessful, all BDS campaigns are equally beneficial in the sense that each campaign kickstarts a conversation that often goes global, as we have seen repeatedly in the past. Airbnb, G4S, and SodaStream are but a few of many such examples. Any global debate on Israel’s military occupation and apartheid is a BDS success story.
That said, there is one strategy that will surely end the BDS campaign, and that is ending the Israeli occupation, dismantling the racial system of apartheid, and giving Palestinians their freedom as enshrined and protected by international law.
Alas, this is the only strategy that Israeli officials are yet to consider.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net