Ben & Jerry's, the politically activist Burlington, Vermont-based ice cream company, released a statement Monday announcing that its ice cream would no longer be sold in "Occupied Palestinian Territory" belonging to Israel.
"We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry's ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)," the company said, referring to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ancestral Israeli territory that Palestinians claim is illegally occupied by the Jewish state.
The announcement was posted on the company's Twitter account and is the first social media post Ben & Jerry's issued in nearly two months. According to the Boston Globe, Ben & Jerry's social media page went silent in May after pro-Palestinian activists started a campaign to pressure the company into disavowing its ties to Israel following a the outbreak of renewed violence in the Gaza Strip.
At the time, Hamas terrorists targeted Israeli civilians with rocket attacks, and Israeli Defense Forces responded with airstrikes in Gaza. Over 11 days of violence, more than 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children, and at least 12 Israelis died, including two children. The disparity can attributed in part to the success of Israel's Iron Dome defense system, which protects Israeli citizens from Palestinian rockets, and also in part to Hamas hiding military targets behind civilian shields.
Outraged pro-Palestinian activists demanded that Ben & Jerry's speak out against Israeli violence, observing that the company has a long track record of being outspoken for other progressive causes including LGBT rights, voting rights, campaign finance reform, and racial issues.
A local Vermont group, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, criticized the company for being silent on the conflict and for licensing a factory in Israel, which produces and distributes ice cream throughout the country, including in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The license agreement was "born out of a friendship between Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen and Israeli businessman Avi Zinger in the 1980s", the Globe reported.
In 2013, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP) prepared a report for Ben & Jerry's executives that documented how the company distributed ice cream in "Occupied Palestinian Territory," but it went unnoticed.
"We've tried to appeal to them based on their mission of love, peace, equality. But they ignored us," said Wafic Faour, who led VTJP's Ben & Jerry's campaign. "Now, public opinion is changing, especially due to the younger generations who have taken to social media and protests and come to our aid. They can no longer ignore us."
Monday's statement from Ben & Jerry's acknowledges the partnership with an Israeli licensee and commits to making changes.
"We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year," the company said.
"Although Ben & Jerry's will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we're ready," the statement concluded.
Reacting, the anti-anti-Semitism group StopAntisemitism.org criticized Ben & Jerry's for kowtowing to the radical Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel.
"Ben and Jerry's fails to realize BDS refers to ALL of Israel as occupied Palestinian territory," the organization tweeted. "Do they honestly think appeasing these bigots will help anything?"