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American Public Opinion and Antisemitism
Protesters staged a rally on Aug. 12, 2021 at the Ben & Jerry's store in Times Square against the ice cream company's decision to stop selling its product in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

American Public Opinion and Antisemitism

Al-Ittihad, UAE, September 1

While it’s been a couple of weeks since Ben & Jerry’s, the renowned ice cream manufacturer, announced its decision to discontinue the sales of its products in the occupied Palestinian territories, I’d like to return to this topic again. Following an initial exaggerated response from Israel and its allies within the US, the story largely faded away from the top of the agenda. However, this is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a saga that will continue for years to come. Responses to the decision on the Israeli side seemed like a desperate attempt by Israeli leaders to outdo each other in their hyperbole. The Israeli president described the company’s decision as an effort to “undermine the very existence of the State of Israel” and “a new form of terrorism.” Others described the decision as “a shameful capitulation to the antisemitism championed by a movement that seeks to destroy the State of Israel.” The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it will require 35 US states that currently have anti-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) laws to impose immediate sanctions on Ben & Jerry’s. A number of US elected officials, under pressure from some US pro-Israel groups, announced that they are reviewing the available options, but so far little has been done. These feverish accusations of antisemitism must be considered and answered. It’s worth noting that Ben & Jerry’s has a long history of supporting social justice issues and has a board of directors that formulates company policies on issues ranging from climate change to racial injustice. For years, activists in Vermont, where the company is headquartered, and nationwide have called for the company to boycott Israel, noting that Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories are inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s message of social justice. The company has now accepted that request and has taken the brave step of taking its products off the shelves of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In an op-ed published in The New York Times last month, the company’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, argued that it was justice, human rights and respect for international law that drove them to act, not hatred of Israel. But the Israeli government, instead of addressing the problem of occupation, punishes and criticizes anyone like Ben & Jerry’s who dares to admit that their conscience refuses to continue to contribute to these crimes. In the past few years, Israel has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a campaign to make boycotts of Israel illegal, but this campaign has had little success to date. So far, 35 US states have enacted laws targeting boycotts on Israel, but these laws have not withstood the judicial challenges filed against them because they infringe on freedom of expression. Almost every week, students at a university, or leaders of a religious body, assert their criticism of Israel for its violations of Palestinian rights. Israel is also losing public support among the general American public, especially among Democrats. An opinion poll conducted by the Arab American Institute revealed that there is a greater percentage of Americans who support criticism of Israel’s policies than those who oppose such criticism. Some 43% of American voters affirmed the right of those opposed to settlement policies to demand sanctions against Israel, compared to 26% who disagreed. The percentage among Democrats is even greater. Notably, 49% of Americans agree with Ben & Jerry’s move, while 31% oppose the decision. Among the Democrats, 65% support the company’s position, while 18% oppose it. – James Zogby (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)


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