There is the chaos in Afghanistan. There is the persistent Covid-19 Pandemic. There is the devasting aftermath of hurricane Ida. They have taken up virtually all the oxygen in the newsrooms. And yet there is another crisis that has both international and domestic implications – and I have the scoop.
It is the Ice Cream War. What is more basic to the American culture than ice cream. As the child’s couplet goes, “I scream, you scream. We all scream for ice cream.” It is not exactly Robert Frost, but you get the idea.
Weeeell … it seems that ice cream has been causing quite a stir on the international scene – more specifically Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. That brand has always been controversial because Ben and Jerry are two radical left-wingers – and they have put their name and brand behind a number of left-wing causes. It is the reason that this ice cream-loving conservative never purchases that brand. It is not exactly a boycott, just my personal protest.
We cannot blame old Ben and Jerry for the current controversy since they no longer own the brand – although they may still have a role in the management. They sold it to the mega multi-national global conglomerate Unilever. Since they also own Bressler’s Ice Cream, I am not sure why Unilever wanted Ben and Jerry’s company — but that is beside the point.
Somewhere in the management structure of Unilever, it was decided that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream would no longer be sold in the West Bank of Israel as an expression of support for the Hamas terrorists who control most of the Palestinian territory – and are regularly shooting rockets into Israel. As far as I know, Hamas does not target Ben and Jerry’s ice cream stores – and it is reported that the real Ben and Jerry support Unilever’s decision. Of course, it does deprive any West Bank Muslim fans of Ben and Jerry’s an occasional banana split.
Now the Israeli government is not known for wimpy responses – and this is no exception. Of course, they promoted a national boycott of the product. But they went much further. They wrote letters to most of the American governors politely suggesting that they take actions against Ben & Jerry’s Homemade brand (homemade? by Unilever?).
Not only did they propose the banning, barring and boycotting Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but they stretched that action over all of Unilever’s household products. No more Lipton Tea. No more Dove – the soap not the chocolate. No more Hellmann’s mayonnaise. And the list goes on. The Israeli government also requested that the American states pull Unilever out of their investment portfolio.
There is a subtext to the controversy. It seems that the anti-Semitic community has been pushing the BDS campaign against Israel. The letters stand for Boycott, Disinvest and Sanction. The BDS is a BFD – to use President Biden’s favorite expression. BDS is supported by the radical left in Congress – most notably the so-called squad members, Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and others.
This put the political left on the horns of a dilemma. Do they ally with their sizeable Jewish voting base and oppose the BDS campaign, or do they realign with the Palestinian forces – as many Democrats prefer?
Playing paddy-cake with Palestinian terrorists may be socially acceptable at Washington establishment soirees, bey it is less popular among Democrats in the states – and most Republican governors. Consequently, some states passed laws that prohibited their pension funds from being invested in companies supporting the BDS movement. In terms of money, that IS a BFD. So, Israel was not just shooting from the hip. They had substantial legal grounds to make that request.
For example … in 2015, the Illinois legislature passed just such a law. But not everyone is enthused.
Crain’s Chicago Business contributor Marilyn Katz opined that the request by Israel was “absurd.” She wrote, “That [Illinois] Gov. J. B. Pritzker [who happens to be Jewish], the state Legislature or any executive bodies would act to punish any company at the behest of a foreign power—imagine a request by China or Putin—would normally draw a laugh.”
Katz seems to have missed the point there are no laws banning investments in companies that boycott China or Russia – and that those nations are adversaries (and get boycotted and sanctioned all the time), while Israel is a staunch ally.
The decision in Illinois will not be made by Pritzker or the state legislature. Such laws require bureaucracies with long names. In this case, it is the Illinois Boycott Restrictions Committee of the Illinois Investment Policy Board.
Katz appears to be disappointed the request from Israel is not being “laughed off.” That is typical of left-leaning activists. Laws they do not like should be ignored … or in this case, “laughed off.”
But … Committee Chairman Andy Lappin announced that “Illinois regulators plan to warn the owner of Ben & Jerry’s to reverse the company’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank and East Jerusalem or face divestment by the state, an official said Wednesday. The Israeli Boycott Restrictions Committee of the Illinois Investment Policy Board will meet to approve setting a 90-day deadline for Unilever to reverse the decision.”
Katz objection to the Israeli request is based on the fact that the boycott is only for the West Bank and a portion of eastern Israel – not all of Israel. She says that West Bank residents can still enjoy their Ben & Jerry’s by driving outside the West Bank. Did she ever consider that the ice cream would melt before folks got back home?
Personally, I hope Illinois drops Unilever for making a political decision instead of a marketing decision. And why only Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. If the company wanted to make a serious political statement – which I think is ill-advised – Unilever should have pulled all their products.
Katz writes that the international ice cream controversy is not important enough in view of all the great issues of the day. But then, she is the one who is publishing her opinion in a leading Chicago publication. It deserves a response – so I have obliged.
Enough said about the Ben &Jerry’s international bruhaha. Writing about it has given me a desire for a couple scoops of that good old fashion — NOT Ben and Jerry’s — ice cream in the freezer.
So, there ‘tis.