A Tempest in an Ice Cream Tub Revealed Some Truths to Israelis

If Ben & Jerry’s keeps to its word and pulls its product from the settlements, I will start eating its ice cream

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Children in Gaza receiving ice cream, 2009.
Children in Gaza receiving ice cream, 2009.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

If Ben & Jerry’s keeps to its word and pulls its product from the settlements in a year and a half (and there’s good reason to doubt it will, given the pressure expected from American Jews), I will start eating its ice cream. I will be able to enjoy a product that shows a little more caring, more involvement, more conscience and, above all, more decency.

Until then, one can only laugh at the summer frenzy that has broken out and will disappear when the next storm of vanity emerges. Do Israelis now need to boycott the ice cream to protest the company’s decision? Or should we buy more in a show of support for the patriotic local franchisee, who will continue selling in the settlements until its contract is up? Meanwhile, what we have is a tempest in a tub of ice cream that teaches us more about Israel than a thousand scholarly papers.

The Ben & Jerry’s affair has made Israelis happy. There aren’t a lot of things they love more than the appearance of an external threat. It brings us together, to wallow in the bitter fate that we of all peoples must face, to create a repulsive unity and groupthink, and to launch a bombastic counterattack, with the knee-jerk accusation of antisemitism for dessert.

When the franchisee of our beloved McDonald’s, Omri Padan, decided to boycott the territories, collective Israel shrieked a lot less. Why? Because Padan is a patriot who in no conceivable way can be tarred as an antisemite. He is untouchable. With an American company, it’s a lot easier.

Ice cream succeeded where the deaths of 67 children in Gaza failed – to remind Israelis of the occupation. Still, the madness remains: The occupation is a victim, the only victim. It boggles the mind that whenever someone dares remind Israelis that something is still wrong, the issue immediately becomes how Israel is the victim. Headlines, endless talk, and the only thing no one asks is – why?

Why would any reasonable person want to boycott Israel? Well, maybe because of the pressure exerted by BDS. Only because of such pressure. Otherwise, there’s no way an ice cream company might come to the conclusion on its own that it no longer wants to sweeten the lives of the settlers. There’s no chance of there being business people with values. It’s just the consequence of pressure. The mechanisms of repression and denial that Israeli society has developed won’t drink from the cup of Chubby Hubby. It’s society’s Iron Dome – it can’t be abandoned.

Therefore, the situation demands nothing less than a real boycott of Israel, of all Israelis, everywhere – a painful, costly, destructive one. Not a boycott-lite on the ice cream sold at the Rami Levy supermarket at the Etzion Junction, but one that all of Israel will feel in its pocket. Only one that can relieve Israel of its blindness and expose the lie it has been feeding itself for so many years.

Equally amazing is all the unity and groupthink that the affair has created. Suddenly, it has become clear that we’re all settlers. The Green Line has long ceased to exist. The Ben & Jerry’s affair has revealed that there’s no difference between the radical right and the left. Everyone is for the settlements. Everyone opposes their being harmed, even if it’s minor harm to the contents of their freezers.

But is it really so sudden? Yair Lapid talks about antisemitism and Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbivai acts if she dreams of being Miri Regev when she grows up. Meanwhile, we can ask ourselves why we deserve ridiculous politicians like these and why no one has mustered the courage to thank Ben & Jerry’s for acting in their small way.

In any case, the step the company took is artificial: It’s no longer possible to separate the settlers and the rest of Israel. The tempest in the tub proves that.

We should praise the ice cream makers from Vermont: They won’t end the occupation – that’s not their job – but on a hot summer day they revealed a few truths to Israelis. Only one question remains for all reasonable Israelis to ask themselves: What would they think of an ice cream company that boycotted South Africa?

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