I have written before about how the government of Israel, faced with rising global criticisms of its apartheid policies towards Palestinians, has started passing laws in US states that make it an offense to support things like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law”. In other words, Israel wants to punish speech that is critical of it. They have been successful in 35 states in passing such laws.
They now have a bigger target because the popular ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s has announced that they will no longer do business in the Occupied Territories. Israel has announced that they will be taking legal action against the company, once again dragging out the dreary old charge of anti-Semitism that is thrown at anyone who has the temerity to criticize its policies.
Israel’s prime minister vowed Tuesday to “act aggressively” against the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories, as the country’s ambassador to the U.S. urged dozens of state governors to punish the company under anti-boycott laws.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, Gilad Erdan, sent letters to 35 governors whose states have laws against boycotting Israel asking that they consider speaking out against Ben & Jerry’s decision “and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben & Jerry’s and your state.”
Erdan said Israel views the company’s decision as “the de-facto adoption of anti-Semitic practices and advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the dehumanization of the Jewish people.”
Does the government of Israel they not realize that this over-the-top rhetoric alleging anti-Semitism has long since lost its bite from overuse?
But even some of Israel’s supporters said the company was on solid ground.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel group J-Street, said it was not antisemitism to differentiate between Israel and settlements built on occupied territory.
“Instead of demonizing and attacking companies and individuals for making principled decisions,” he said, “these leaders would make a greater contribution to the fight against antisemitism by helping to bring the unjust and harmful occupation to a peaceful end.”
The battle comes against the backdrop of shifting U.S. attitudes toward Israel. Where Israel once enjoyed solid bipartisan support in the U.S., the country has turned into a divisive issue in recent years, with Republicans strongly supporting it and Democrats, especially young liberal voters, increasingly supporting the Palestinians.
Several factors have fueled this trend, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close alliance with former President Donald Trump.
Michael Oren, who served as Netanyahu’s ambassador to the U.S., said the trends were worrisome for Israel.
While he said the Ben & Jerry’s decision posed no immediate threat to Israel’s robust economy, he said the boycott movement could contribute to a “steady erosion of Israel’s legitimacy.”
It is one thing for individuals, who can be intimidated by the cost of mounting a legal defense, to be threatened with legal action by an entity with deep pockets, like a nation. But states may be hesitant to take on a popular company like Ben & Jerry’s since it may cause a backlash and it has the resources to defend itself. The real question is whether governments of US states, while willing to pass laws to placate the Israel lobby, will be willing to actually incur the costs of prosecuting violations of a law designed to serve the interests of a foreign country.