By Rabbi Benjamin Blech To put it mildly last week’s interview on national TV with the two cofounders of Ben & Jerry’s was nothing less than a disaster.
Ben Cohen and his ice cream empire’s partner, Jerry Greenfield, gave us a vivid demonstration of illogic as they tried to justify their “progressive and woke” new policy banning sales of their products in the parts of Israel they designated as “occupied Palestinian territory”. For them, politics – at least when it concerns the state of Israel – needs to determine who should be permitted to enjoy a serving of “rocky road” or other delectable frozen dessert, all based on their approval of the country’s policies.
Mind you, some of the worst dictatorships and sponsors of terrorism have to this day not been designated as worthy of inclusion under the “double chunk double standard” flavor boycott. The most corrupt countries haven’t proven worthy of the dire punishment of ineligibility for a “Vermont’s finest” scoop of refreshment. But those miserable Israelis, the Jews who can only survive under the protection of God as well as the Iron Dome, the Jews who think they have any rights whatsoever to a land in which they have lived for thousands of years, just don’t deserve the pleasure of a dessert that has made billionaires of two American Jews.
Yes, we can all be certain that Israel will survive this culinary insult. Somehow the one and only democracy in the Middle East will manage to defeat the nefarious plot of Cohen and Greenfield to deny Israel its biblical accolade of being a land “flowing with milk and honey” – truly a far better flavor than any of those yet thought up by Ben and Jerry.
What really turned the most recent interview on “Axios on HBO” into a fitting fiasco was the question moderator Alexi McCammond asked the pair of ice cream merchandisers, “You guys are big proponents of voting rights. Why are you still selling ice cream in Georgia? Texas – passed abortion bans that you strongly oppose. Why are you still selling there?”
Cohen was stunned. It appeared he had never thought of the question. “I don’t know,” he answered. “It’s an interesting question.” And then, “I think I have to sit down and think about it for a bit.” A boycott on sales in Israel? – That was easy. After all, this was supposedly an ethical stand which actually brought out applause and agreement from Jew haters around the world. But a decision to limit sales to demonstrate disagreement with serious anti-progressive content –that really was never meant to be on the table because the object of its venom was not those damn Israeli Jews who keep persisting in their desire to live in peace with their neighbors.
After creating an international issue for many months, Cohen and Greenfield could only counter with “I don’t know” to explain why they chose only Israel to exclude from their marketing!
And then came the topper: when asked by the moderator if the cofounders were bothered by criticism accusing them of anti-Semitism, Cohen laughingly responded, “it’s absurd. What? I’m anti-Jewish? I mean, I’m a Jew. All my family is Jewish. My friends are Jewish.”
As if history hasn’t proved that some of the greatest anti-Semites of all were in fact Jews. Jews who hated their identity so much that they had to transfer their self-hatred unto other Jews.
It was the father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, who shared this remarkable insight.
When Freud was twelve and out walking with his father Jacob in the streets of Vienna, his father wanted to show his son how much better things had become for Jews since the days when he was a poor peddler wearing a beaver hat and a kaftan in the shtetls of Galicia. So he told his son about the time in Tysmenitz when a gentile had crossed his path on the pavement and had knocked his hat into the gutter jeering after him, “Jew, get off the pavement.”
“What did you do?” the indignant Sigmund asked his father. Jacob replied, “I stepped into the gutter and picked up my cap.”
From this bitter little memory, the adult Freud dated his disillusion with his father, and the birth of one of his most persistent fantasies, his identification with Hannibal, the warrior.
It is a tragic irony that some of the most zealous anti-Semites on the American white supremacist scene have turned out to have direct family links to the Jewish religion as well as the people they have devoted their lives to hating.
The truth is that Ben and Jerry chose Israel as the object of their boycott precisely because they are Jews. Jews who detest that part of their identity. Jews who cannot find peace in their own minds for their failure to exemplify the ethical beauty of the people into which they were born. Jews who bring shame to their biblical roots – and think they can find their redemption by ostracizing their fellow Jews and then denying the profound psychological truth of their deep-rooted self-hatred.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech, born in Zurich in 1933, was a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University since 1966, and is emeritus rabbi of Young Israel of Oceanside after serving as rabbi for 37 years. An internationally recognized educator, religious leader and author of 19 books, he speaks on Jewish topics to communities around the world.