Ben and Jerry: Deluded Men of “Peace”

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Jerry Greenfield, left, and Ben Cohen, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, shown in 2010. (Wikimedia Commons)

by Richard Landes

A few days ago, the NYT (#surprise) ran an op-ed by Bennet Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, entitled: “We’re Ben and Jerry. Men of Ice Cream, Men of Principle.” It is hard to exaggerate the self-deluding, self-important, content that the title only hints at. (Benjamin Kerstein calls it “hilariously… onanistic” (which for those who don’t know is risible climactic narcissism.) If it weren’t for the widespread circulation of the kind of deep moral disorientation expressed in this piece, I’d have much better uses of my time than fisking this piece. But, here goes.

We’re Ben and Jerry. Men of Ice Cream, Men of Principle.

By Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Greenfield founded Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings in 1978.

We are the founders of Ben & Jerry’s. We are also proud Jews. It’s part of who we are and how we’ve identified ourselves for our whole lives. As our company began to expand internationally, Israel was one of our first overseas markets. We were then, and remain today, supporters of the State of Israel.

But it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government.

Absolutely. But this is an obvious cliche that no one would argue with. Indeed there is no government in the world so widely criticized by its own citizens, by Jews, and by non-Jewish outsiders, as well as viciously vilified by its enemies, as Israel.

This opening salvo – to which they will return (below) actually has nothing to do with what Ben and Jerry in their “proud Jew” mode have done. But it has a lot tto do with something far more worrisome, the fact that some criticism of Israel is indeed antisemitic, both in its moral sadism (Israel is apartheid, racist, genocidal, Nazi-like), and in the way it empowers some of the most delirious genocidal haters on the planet today, people who – #shocker – hate free Jews more than any of the many categories of people they hate.

As such, we unequivocally support the decision of the company to end business in the occupied territories, which a majority of the international community, including the United Nations, has deemed an illegal occupation.

Now we get to the beginning of the folly. The majority of the “international community,” really means the “Human Rights NGOs” the progressive journalists, and the folks at the United Nations (to which the pair apparently give great respect). This vast consensus has repeated without any critical acumen the position of Israel’s most devotedly implacable enemies for at least two decades now.

[At the end of the post, I add a piece I did on how “everyone agrees” is folly.]

Do Ben and Jerry really want to invoke an institution like the UN, whose “human rights” commission is run by the biggest violators of human rights on the planet? Or don’t they know this? And if they don’t, what are they doing shooting their mouths off on the NYT editorial page? (A couple of years ago, I would have said “and what’s the NYT doing publishing it, but that’s not even a question anymore.)

As for the notion that the territories in question are “occupied,” that they (already do or should) belong to the Palestinian people (in the original statement from B&J it was “Palestinian Occupied Territories”), is a classic misreading. The 1949-67 “borders” were never recognized by the Arabs (or the Palestinians); they make Israel dangerously vulnerable to Arab attack (Abba Eban called them Auschwitz Borders); they give the entire Jewish quarter of the Old City to the Arabs (who, when they seized it in 1948, ethnically cleansed Jews who had been living there for millennia and destroyed all the synagogues); and they deserve, in any decent, fair discussion of what should be done with the territories in question, to be considered “disputed” until that dispute is resolved. To resolve it in advance by calling it “occupied” is to give the Palestinians lands they have no serious claim to, and indeed, have no business claiming as theirs.

While we no longer have any operational control of the company we founded in 1978, we’re proud of its action and believe it is on the right side of history. In our view, ending the sales of ice cream in the occupied territories is one of the most important decisions the company has made in its 43-year history. It was especially brave of the company. Even though it undoubtedly knew that the response would be swift and powerful, Ben & Jerry’s took the step to align its business and operations with its progressive values.

This is a good example of what Kerstein considers hilarious. First: the right side of history?!?! You’re siding with a “liberation movement” that has, from the outset claimed it wants to eliminate the state of Israel (the only Jewish state), and never – in Arabic – retracted that claim. They have called on the world to boycott Israel as part of this effort. Whether B&J think they can separate their “occupied territory” boycott from the larger effort to stigmatize Israel, the reality on the ground is that they cannot. Their move was a huge shot in the arm to the forces of darkness. Their self-congratulatory characterization of what they did as “brave” only underlines how clueless they are.

Which brings us to the final kicker in that paragraph. Progressive?!?!? You think it’s progressive to support a movement that is a) deeply antisemitic; b) contemptuous of human life – their own children as well as the children of those they hate (ie al Yahood); c) deeply misogynistic (they shame murder their daughters); d) admiring of Nazi ideology which they use liberally; and e) harshly repressive of the human rights of any Palestinians who have the misfortune to fall under their control? How does that make it “progressive.”

This actually goes back to the turn of the millennium (subject of my forthcoming book). In 2003, at the height of the suicide terror campaign in which Palestinian leaders brainwashed their children with genocidal hatred to go blow themselves up among Israeli children, progressive blamed Israel ( “Palestinian terror had become the measure of Israeli guilt” – Paul Berman) and made “the Palestinian cause the universal litmus test for liberal credentials” (Ian Buruma). From that moment on “progressive” got its scare quotes, and tore off in a tragically self-destructive direction. That Ben and Jerry haven’t figured that out two decades later is perhaps not surprising – if anything its more pronounced now – but that hardly means that in invoking morally disoriented ideologies like “progressivism” and corrupted institutions like the UN, B&J don’t act foolishly, self-destructively, and in every way except the collective folly of the age, un-progressively.

That we support the company’s decision is not a contradiction nor is it anti-Semitic. In fact, we believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism.

It is contradictory of both progressive principles, in particular the progressive ones that consider opposing the rise of genocidal antisemitism a high priority (let’s put aside the garden variety jew-baiting involved in calling Israel apartheid, racist, or Nazi). If your actions encourage the projects of people who call for the destruction of the only state where Jews have a sovereign say in their interests, and the extermination of the Jews world-wide and their allies, then, it contradicts progressive values and it feeds the most toxic antisemitism the world has yet seen.

Ben & Jerry’s is a company that advocates peace. It has long called on Congress to reduce the U.S. military budget. Ben & Jerry’s opposed the Persian Gulf war of 1991. But it wasn’t just talk. One of our very first social-mission initiatives, in 1988, was to introduce the Peace Pop. It was part of an effort to promote the idea of redirecting 1 percent of national defense budgets around the world to fund peace-promoting activities. We see the company’s recent action as part of a similar trajectory — not as anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace.

Now we get to the nub of the matter, and an incidental insight into how the peace community got duped. There is nothing pro-peace about supporting a Palestinian state. Both their secular and religious leaders make it clear (in Arabic) that they would use any Israeli concessions as a platform for the larger war to wipe them out. What peace-loving Westerners who supported Oslo thought was a “Land for Peace” deal, was, unequivocally for Palestinian leaders like Arafat and Sheikh Yassin, “Land for War,” clearly stated in an Arabic discourse that Western progressives refused to hear. It still is. Anyone who thinks that giving the Palestinians a state, creating a 52nd Muslim-majority state will lead to peaceful democracy all around, lives in a toxic fantasy world, especially when in their brave conviction that they are on the “right side of history,” they take decisive action for peace by supporting the war mongers.

In its statement, the company drew a contrast between the democratic territory of Israel and the territories Israel occupies. The decision to halt sales outside Israel’s democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel. The Ben & Jerry’s statement did not endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Thank you so much for the distinction, even though many of those who welcome your brave decision consider you pathetic for making that distinction (or just assume you’re making it to keep the Zionists off your back even if you – and they – “know for a certainty” that Israel is not a democracy but rather a racist, apartheid state to the core). B&J may think they have not endorsed the BDS movement by slicing their moral baloney very thin, but as far as the forces of BDS are concerned, this is another great win: Progressives are on our side; use our terminology; step according to our directions.

The company’s stated decision to more fully align its operations with its values is not a rejection of Israel. It is a rejection of Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is a barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation.

I’m assuming here that B&J think that the Israelis are the reason the Palestinian people don’t have rights, and by siding with the cause of the Palestinians – ie what their self-declared leaders want – they are promoting both peace and human rights. As above, this leads to the opposite. Why? Simple.

The reason the Palestinian people don’t have human rights is the reason why no Arab living anywhere in an Arab-majority country (hence with Arab rulers) has any human rights. So far, the Arab world’s “Strong Horse” political culture has produced no democracies whatsoever, no traditions of human rights – neither for minorities (Jews, Christians, Druze, Kurds) nor for majorities (Arabs, Berbers). And in the range of Arab ruling cliques, the Palestinians, secular and religious, all tend towards the most authoritarian and oppressive (they are, after all, the inheritors of the Arab policy that sacrificed Palestinian refugee rights on the altar of their war-aims in 1948).

The very idea that a Palestinian state, created soon, as a result of pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, will lead to, in the words of UN Resolution 2334, “two democratic states living side-by-side in peace,” staggers the sound mind. Indeed, if you want to understand why Kerstein finds the whole op-ed hilarious, start here.

As Jewish supporters of the State of Israel, we fundamentally reject the notion that it is anti-Semitic to question the policies of the State of Israel.

This is so bizarre a statement as to deserve its own comment. Of course questioning the policies of the State of Israel isn’t antisemitic. And I wouldn’t call what B&J have done “antisemitic.” (I save that for the genocidal exterminationism so loudly proclaimed by both the Nazis and the Jihadis.) But it is deeply problematic to adopt the English terminology of the Palestinian narrative – illegal occupation, barrier to peace, violation of human rights of the Palestinian people – and punish Israelis and Palestinians to support it – when this is the language of the Palestinian “leaders” who both deprive the Palestinians of their rights, and do everything to prevent peace, because they consider all of Israel occupied… people who say deeply antisemitic things to each other.

By asserting the self-evident principle that being critical of Israel isn’t antisemitic, however, B&J may not realize they’re actually repeating an meme widely used by antisemites, who made morally sadistic accusations of Israel – apartheid, racist, genocidal, Nazi – and defend it with precisely the meaningless principle they repeat so unnecessarily here. Can one give a dog whistle without knowing it?

When we left the helm of the company, we signed a unique governance structure in the acquisition agreement with Unilever back in 2000. That structure is the magic behind both Ben & Jerry’s continued independence and its success. As part of the agreement, the company retained an independent board of directors with a responsibility to protect the company’s essential brand integrity and to pursue its social mission.

Aye, and there’s the rub. You’ve preserved your independence, and then put it to perverse ends, all the while patting yourself on the back for your brave magic.

Interestingly your editorial makes no mention of the “director” of your trusted Chair of the Board, Anuradha Mittal, (maybe because she wanted your company to boycott of Israel as well). She embodies the folly of the age. Her sympathies are for Hizbullah and Hamas, the very antisemitic, genocidal jihadi groups who destroy the lives of those Arabs among whom they live. She thinks that the current conflict is black and white (like the US Civil War) and that the US is on the side of slavery, and that the jihadis are fighters for freedom and human rights.

I don’t think she’s insincere, but as Marx would say, in her “false consciousness,” she’s “objectively” antisemitic (he was openly so). Anyone who can look at the current situation and think that Jihadis are the good guys and the Western democracies the bad guys, cannot be trusted, neither intellectually nor morally, no matter how sincere, no matter how dazzling her smile. What on earth is she doing giving you progressive advice?

We believe business is among the most powerful entities in society. We believe that companies have a responsibility to use their power and influence to advance the wider common good. Over the years, we’ve also come to believe that there is a spiritual aspect to business, just as there is to the lives of individuals. As you give, you receive. We hope that for Ben & Jerry’s, that is at the heart of the business. To us, that’s what this decision represents, and that is why we are proud that 43 years after starting an ice cream shop in a dilapidated gas station in Burlington, Vt., our names are still on the package.

As you give, you receive. Give a poison to your people’s enemies, no matter how pure your intentions, is just plain bad karma.

What can you do about it? Swallow your pride and learn something about the real world. Given your editorial, which pulls out every self-congratulatory cliché (so 21st century USA said a friend), that this is unlikely.

On the other hand, if you really are brave, progressive and really want to contribute to peace, reconsidering what side of history your dramatic gesture has taken, if you have the courage to stop following the crowd, and stand with those who say the 21st century “emperor clothed in peace” is a fool, taking cues from wolves in sheep’s clothing, then please, take a great step forward for peace.