Why Did the Ben & Jerry’s Boycott Hurt Us More Than Rocket Fire on the North?
Ma’ariv, Israel, July 23
Let’s start with a little experiment: Open Google and start typing the word “Ben.” You’ll notice that the first phrase that comes up is “Ben & Jerry’s” ice cream. Ironically, the announcement that Ben & Jerry’s would stop selling products in the West Bank created much more commotion in Israel compared to other events, including things like the highly controversial posts published by influencers Bella and Gigi Hadid during the recent Gaza operations. When I compared the searches for “rockets” or “rockets on Israel” and “Ben & Jerry’s,” Google Trends showed a 100% difference in favor of ice cream. For those who don’t understand the comparison, the night before the Ben & Jerry’s announcement, two rockets had been launched from Lebanon into Israeli territory. The rocket incident, severe as it may have been, failed to attract attention and produce the buzz it would routinely produce. Instead, the beloved ice cream brand attracted all of the public attention. Google’s search engine, which reflects the real-time pulse of the populace, doesn’t lie. The picture is very clear: The new arena of war is being waged on networks and in the media, and whoever knows how to use messages correctly will win the war over the public’s consciousness. So why does the issue of ice cream hurt us much more than the issue of rocket fire? Although we like to think of ourselves as rational decision-makers, most of our decisions are driven by emotion. If certain information manages to excite us, it will gain more weight in the evaluation process. Emotion is considered the most primitive and effective mechanism in the human mind. Studies have repeatedly shown that the more information evokes our emotion, the more it will be able to attract our attention – especially when it comes to information that elicits negative emotions like surprise, disgust, anger, or fear. The rockets fired at Israel weren’t new. Conversely, news that the American ice cream manufacturer is boycotting Israel was perceived as a declaration of war. These emotional responses are automatic and serve a clear evolutionary purpose. They promote our survival as a group. Anything that evokes the feeling that we are being wronged causes people to unite around a common goal and produces a sense of common destiny. In situations where an external group challenges our existence, an automatic mechanism is activated that emphasizes who belongs to the internal group and who doesn’t. In these cases, people act out of emotion and not out of rational judgment. A clear example of action out of emotion and without rational thought was evident in a video shot by Economy Minister Orna Barbivay, who showed herself tossing her Ben & Jerry’s ice cream into the trash. Following the video, many in Israel rushed to document themselves doing the same in protest. But the decision was far from rational. It didn’t hurt Ben & Jerry’s but rather the local Israeli franchisee that manufactures the ice cream in Israel. Walter Lippman, an American thinker and journalist, argued that the public is incapable of digesting complex ideas and that trusting the masses to think rationally would be a disastrous thing. It seems as if the public isn’t alone; we also can’t trust our politicians to think rationally before they post videos to Facebook and TikTok depicting themselves protesting a decision with counterintuitive measures. –Liraz Margalit (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)