The big news in Israel this past week was the decision by Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, the progressive, Vermont-based retailer, to stop selling its flavorful pints in the Israeli settlements. Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, both proud American Jews and supporters of Israel were widely pilloried for supposedly engaging in “anti-Semitism”, “caving to the BDS movement” and “attacking the towns and villages of Israel.” Actually, what their independent Board of Directors did, after years of grassroots lobbying, was finally agree to apply the progressive values in the company’s code of conduct to the settlements issue. Among those bringing the pressure were Black Lives Matter activists, women, and people of color who were grateful for Ben and Jerry’s commitment to racial equity, and took the logical next step and asked, “What about Palestine?” Logical, because, as Dr. King put it, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Logical because “no one is free until all are free.” Logical because liberation struggles are intimately connected with each other.
I remember when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) passed a boycott of settlement products in 2012 and urged all its members not to buy products made in the settlements or using Palestinian natural resources (such as Ahava, the Israeli cosmetic company expropriating Dead Sea minerals). At the time, the Church was very careful to distinguish the settlements (which are built on stolen Palestinian land and illegal under international law) from Israel proper (the internationally recognized sovereign Jewish state inside The Green Line). The thinking was “we support the state of Israel, but we condemn the illegal settlements.” Ben and Jerry’s action observed that same distinction. But it all seems so quaint now. In a recent letter signed by 90 of 120 members of Knesset, it’s clear that the vast majority of the Knesset and Israeli society view the settlements not as some kind of international embarrassment, but as an indivisible part of Israel. Attack the settlements and you are attacking Israel. This land is our land. We are not done annexing Palestinian land. The Knesset majority brazenly refers to huge swaths of the West Bank, not as Occupied Palestinian Territories, but as “Judea and Samaria,” ancient Jewish names for the region, signaling they intend to make them part of Israel, too.
Recent reports by B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch also pay little attention to the distinction between the illegal settlements and the legal state of Israel. Instead, they look unflinchingly at the brute facts on all the ground between the river and the sea. Their conclusion: there is but one sovereign power governing the space, and its name is Israel. What’s worth noting is that the Israeli government’s reaction to Ben and Jerry’s actually validated this unitary framing in the B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch reports. It’s basically saying, “If you divest from the settlements, it is the same, for us, as divesting from Israel. They are not two separable things; they are one and the same.” As we are seeing, divest from the settlements, as Ben and Jerry’s have announced they plan to do next year, and you will feel the full wrath of the Israeli government and large portions of the American Jewish establishment exactly as if you had mounted a campaign against the state of Israel. Precisely. Israel as a whole – its policies and practices toward the Palestinians within Israel proper and in the West Bank and Gaza – is the work of a unitary annexationist, apartheid state. So, here’s the question: why observe a distinction that Israel itself does not acknowledge? What’s stopping a full-scale boycott, divestment, and sanctions strategy directed at the state of Israel?