Ben Cohen stayed cool as the ice cream that bears his name. But as his interview last week with Axios on HBO drew to a close, he revealed his thinking about Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to be as incoherent and messy as a scoop of Cherry Garcia left out in the sun on a hot day.
Ben and Jerry’s decision to ban their product from East Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria was not antisemitic, Cohen insisted. (“What? I’m anti-Jewish? I mean, I’m a Jew. My family is Jewish, my friends are Jewish,” he exclaimed.) Nor was it intended to harm Israel; it was simply an expression of moral outrage over the plight of the Palestinians.
The interviewer asked the obvious question: If so, why are they still selling ice cream in state of Georgia – which passed a voter registration law that outrages progressives, and in Texas – where recent legislation greatly restricts abortions?
Jerry Greenfield admitted that there are things happening in every state in the union that are objectionable, but it doesn’t stop them from raking it in everywhere across the US.
Ben Cohen’s response revealed a successful businessman who’s comfortably clueless about the parameters of activism:
“I don’t know. I mean it is an interesting question. I don’t know what that would accomplish … I think you ask a really good question, and I’d have to sit and think about it a bit,” he mused.
But he had no problem kicking the only Jewish state in the rear, at a time when violent antisemitism on both sides of the Atlantic has skyrocketed –fueled in large part by Hamas’ rocket war against Israeli civilians.
Moreover, the ice cream moguls, apparently in the pursuit of world peace and social justice, handed blank check to a board chair who openly detests the Jewish state and defends the Jew-hating Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists.
Do we think that Ben and Jerry are conscious antisemites? No. But antisemitism needn’t be conscious to be dangerous. In the 21st century, there is a well-established litmus test for antisemitism, conscious or otherwise. It was devised by human rights icon Natan Sharansky.
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He calls it the “Three Ds”: Delegitimizing (attacking the legitimacy of Israel and/or Judaism), Demonization (Israel is the source of much of the world’s evil), and Double-standard (demanding of Israel that it act in ways no other nation would ever do – ie; not responding to thousands of terrorist rockets aimed at your heartland). All three are central components of BDS campaigns.
Can Jews be antisemitic? Of course, they can: just as Americans can hate and malign America – as Squad members demonstrate in Congress; and just as Blacks are rightfully upset when unambiguous Uncle Toms claim to speak for them.
Yes, Jews can be overt antisemites. Jewish history easily shows more Jewish antisemites than sprinkles on a Chocolate Fudge Brownie sundae.
In modern times, Karl Marx, descended from rabbis on both his paternal and maternal sides, wrote that the practical solution to the Jewish Problem is for mankind to emancipate itself from Judaism. In post-revolution Russia, the Communist Party established a section whose mission statement was the “destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement and Hebrew culture.” This section, the Yevsektsiya, was manned by Jews who brutally suppressed Judaism, denouncing their coreligionists to the party to be “disappeared” in Siberia or murdered outright.
Neither Ben Cohen or Jerry Greenfield, G-d forbid, wants to line Jews up against a wall. There is, however, an insidious kind of antisemitism, often unconscious, and common to non-Jews and Jews alike. It is a discomfort with Jews and things Jewish – the kind that leads to violations of Sharansky’s Three Ds without ever consciously thinking of why their passion is reserved only for the Jewish State.
For those of us who often talk with others about the virtues of different cultures, one of the most pronounced characteristics of Jewish life for the last millennia has been loyalty – Jews protecting the lives of other Jews, even those who thought differently, or whom they did not know at all.
Ben and Jerry unleashed their boycott at a time of raging antisemitism. That’s unforgiveable. It won’t help a single Palestinian but will negatively impact world Jewry every day that it stands. Far from fulfilling the dictum of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, it has succeeded in adding another fracture.
So, we won’t be counting on Ben or Jerry to suddenly absorb the lessons of 3,500 years of Jewish history. That is why we, along with many US states, and investors, are focusing our efforts on Ben and Jerry’s corporate owners – Unilever – to do the right thing and reverse the travesty.