Jewish Groups Urge U.S. Governors Not to Use anti-BDS Laws Against Ben & Jerry's

A letter sent by progressive Jewish organizations rejects allegations that Ben & Jerry's decision to stop selling in settlements is a boycott of Israel, an endorsement of BDS, or an act of antisemitism

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream shop, July 2021, Burlington, Vermont.
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream shop, July 2021, Burlington, Vermont. Credit: Charles Krupa,AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Several progressive Jewish organizations called on 33 governors of states with anti-BDS laws to not take legal action against Ben & Jerry's or its parent company Unilever over its decision to stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements.

In a letter – written by Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Habonim Dror North America, J Street, New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, and T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights – the progressive groups rejected allegations that the move is a boycott of Israel, an endorsement of the BDS movement or an act of antisemitism.

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"Such discourse not only clouds the facts, but is extremely polarizing, deeply painful to many Jews and harms the fight against the growing tide of actual, deadly hatred that our community faces worldwide," the letter read.

The organizations note that none of the signees endorse the BDS movement, yet make a distinction between Israel and occupied territory – a differentiation that "is rightly recognized and maintained in various ways by official U.S. policy and the constitutionally-protected actions of private individuals and organizations."

The signees raised their collective concern that "moves to penalize those who choose to protest settlements, the occupation or Israeli policy at large violate Americans’ fundamental constitutional rights and dangerously create a false dichotomy between freedom of speech and support for Israel," noting their opposition to anti-BDS laws on free speech grounds, as well as their potential weaponization against political opponents.

"No matter how strongly one might disagree with or oppose the rhetoric or goals of specific movements and efforts, the right to boycott is an important part of our democracy," the groups wrote.

They further warned against using the full force and power of government to penalize opponents of Israel "does nothing but generate further attention and sympathy for boycotts, and frames backing Israel as being in opposition to fundamental freedoms in the minds of many Americans."

The letter follows U.S. Ambassador to Israel Gilad Erdan's letter to the same set of governors urging them to exercise their respective states' anti-boycott laws in response to Ben & Jerry's decision.

The leaders of Jewish establishment and pro-Israel organizations such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith International, Christians United for Israel and Hadassah, Women's Zionist Organization of America asked governors to determine whether Unilever was subject to divestment over violation of anti-BDS laws.

Officials in five states – Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas – have taken initial steps at examining potential action over the move.

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