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A taste of boycott that chills Jewish settlers

Amid red-tiled single-family cottages that line the top of the tree-lined hill, as in any residential American suburb, the Turjeman supermarket bustles Thursday afternoon with Sabbath shopping. Jewish customers who speak English with an American accent rush to the checkout counter, where a display case full of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream offers three tubs for NIS 49.90 (€ 13), an offer equivalent to three for two over the usual price.

“It’s quite a dilemma,” acknowledges Sara, a 50-year-old lawyer, mother of six, who prefers not to reveal her last name. “At home we love these ice creams; We lived in Chicago until seven years ago, ”she admits about her family’s dependence on addictive flavors, wearing the turban that distinguishes married Orthodox Jews. But we also believe that Judea and Samaria [denominaciones bíblicas de Cisjordania] it is part of the promised land, of the land of Israel that God gave us in the Bible ”, rivet loaded with two bags that do not show Ben & Jerry’s products.

The Turjeman supermarket is not located in the State of Illinois. It is in Neve Daniel, 14 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem, in the Jewish settlement district of Gush Etzion that surrounds Bethlehem, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, with a separation wall. The decision of the American company that makes the popular ice cream to stop selling them – “because it is incompatible with their values” – in the settlements in the West Bank, announced last week, seems to have left the settlers indifferent, who continue to buy them by the handful despite the call of the prime minister, the ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett, to boycott the brand.

The current broad-coalition Israeli government has created a working group dedicated to exerting “maximum pressure” on Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its decision, as revealed by diplomatic analyst Barak Ravid on the Axios information portal. Israel fears that other foreign companies may follow in the footsteps of the US ice cream maker and abandon settlements in the West Bank.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a classified cable to its diplomatic missions to launch a campaign of “public protests in the media” and exert “direct pressure on company executives”, at the hands of Jewish organizations, groups pro-Israel and evangelical Christian communities. “In the 18 months that remain until the decision (of Ben & Jerry’s) comes into force, it is necessary to send messages to consumers and politicians in the press and social networks,” reads the diplomatic cable.

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“As long as customers keep asking for them, I will continue to offer these ice creams”

“As long as customers continue to order them, I will continue to offer these ice creams,” guarantees Moshe Turjeman, 71, owner of the Neve Daniel establishment. “No one has asked me to remove them. Quite the contrary. They are part of the lifestyle of the people in this community ”, he maintains, concerned by the debate that arose after the commercial plan,“ and they also employ many Israelis ”.

Bennett, who before becoming prime minister defended the political interests of the more than 650,000 settlers living in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and declared himself a supporter of the annexation of the West Bank to Israel, has called it a “surrender to terrorism and anti-Semitism. ”The announcement by Ben & Jerry’s not to renew the license to the franchise firm that has made ice cream tubs in two factories in Israel since 1987 —and also distributes them in the colonies— when it expires at the end of next year.

Israel has started a lobbying campaign for Unilever, the parent group of the ice cream company. The CEO of the Anglo-Dutch multinational, Alan Jope, has emphasized that “anti-Semitism cannot have a place in society”, in a letter addressed to Jewish organizations in the US, headed by the influential Anti-Defamation League.

Unilever has rejected any link to the Pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In the US, 35 of the 50 states have passed laws against BDS. Three years ago, the digital platform for tourist accommodation Airbnb withdrew from its offer on the web the more than 200 lodgings that it had registered in the West Bank with the aim of “avoiding suffering for the Palestinians”. The company’s decision was immediately contested in the US courts. A few months later, Airbnb had to back down.

The international community considers that the Israeli settlements lack any legitimacy. Security Council resolution 2334, approved in December 2016, establishes that the Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory constitute a flagrant violation of international law. The measure was voted on by all the members of the Council, then under the Spanish presidency, except for the United States, which abstained, but did not exercise the traditional right of veto in favor of the Jewish State. Israel replies that these are not occupied territories, but disputed areas over which the Jewish people have historical rights.

Ben & Jerry’s was created in 1978 under the motto “peace, love and ice cream” in the State of Vermont, one of the most progressive in the US Among its principles, pacifism stands out, manifested in its opposition to the 1991 Gulf War .

Its founders were two Jews: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Both have signed a recent rostrum in The New York Times in which they proclaim themselves firm defenders of the Israeli State. “But it is possible to support him and question some of his policies,” they warn in the text. “We support the decision of the company, one of the most important in our 43-year history, to end business in the occupied territories, which does not involve any boycott,” they stressed. “We are Jews and we support Israel, but we categorically reject that questioning Israeli policy is anti-Semitism.”

“We liked Ben & Jerry’s ice cream so much that we even went to visit their first factory in Waterbury (Vermont) as a family,” recalls Sara, longingly, at Neve Daniel’s supermarket. “I think there is an undercurrent of hatred on the part of those who want to impose a boycott on us,” says this business lawyer. “We want to live here according to our faith and our ideas, and also Neve Daniel’s houses are much more spacious and affordable,” he concludes. “But I still don’t know what we will do with the ice cream. That is our dilemma ”.

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