WMNF | Talk to Lara Friedman about Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream
Lara Friedman is President of the Middle East Peace Foundation (FMEP). With over 25 years of work in the Middle East foreign policy arena, Lara is a leading authority on US foreign policy in the Middle East, with expertise on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israeli settlements. , Jerusalem and the role of the US Congress.
Samar talks to Lara Friedman about the problem with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and how they will no longer work in the occupied territories. They are known to take a stand on social justice issues and this time around they released a statement saying they would not be renewing their distribution contract with a local Israeli country. This created outrage among Israelis and the retaliation was extreme, claiming the company was anti-Semitic, and the new Israeli president even called it economic terrorism. This is not the first time they have called boycotts of economic terrorism, as they are used to calling everything pro-Palestinian “terrorism” even if it is non-violent.
Ben and Jerry, the founders are Jewish, but they sold the company to Unilever, the British conglomerate. Unilever and Ben and Jerry are both aligned in terms of values regarding this move, which was evident in the statement released by Unilever. The Israeli reaction was a repeat of Airbnb’s withdrawal from the occupied areas.
The reason for choosing not to operate in occupied territories is different from one company to another. However, most European companies follow international law on the matter, which states that Jewish settlements are illegal and that they cannot build towns in areas where there is an indigenous population. Europe has made it clear that they should not operate in areas with Jewish settlements.
Israeli authorities attempted to ask US authorities to penalize Ben and Jerry’s for their boycott. These kinds of attempts to penalize the boycott are an ongoing effort where they have called on US officials to change laws to prevent companies from boycotting Israel. It was concluded some time ago that these laws are unconstitutional. Divestment is another law that people are looking at, which includes the withdrawal of all invested funds that a state has from these companies. Unless Ben and Jerry’s don’t comply with the Israeli authorities, it can happen, but it likely won’t hurt their results.
Lara talks about the endgame of FMEP. Organizations and governments must face the situation today, namely that Palestinians live in an apartheid system without human rights and without political rights. The Israelis are striving to maintain permanent control in the West Bank, not towards a two-state solution. The Ben and Jerry problem really highlights the current situation and that is why the Israeli reaction is so extreme. The FMEP is working to shed light on the current situation and is working to improve it.
Samar asks Lara if Biden has done anything different from Trump and if his administration will make any progress in the conflict. Although it is too early to determine, a few small steps have been taken, but larger issues like the status of Jerusalem have not been addressed. Moreover, Biden failed to reverse the normalization of settlements by the Trump administration. The administration is currently focusing elsewhere, including on the Iran nuclear deal, beyond the fact that most of Biden’s actions are heavily criticized and viewed as anti-Semitic, limiting his progress on the conflict.
A guest asks Lara if she thinks Unilever and Ben and Jerry will reverse their decision to leave the occupied territories after pressure from the Israelis. She thinks there will be legal proceedings but none of them will fly as they are almost all unconstitutional. What is more likely is that other companies could follow suit, particularly US companies. Some argue that this problem with Ben and Jerry and the hype surrounding it is a distraction from the larger problem with NSO and malware sold to authoritarian governments to spy on journalists, human rights activists and its citizens. However, Lara does not agree with this, and Ben and Jerry’s problem is actually a very big problem and creates a real problem for the Israeli government.