Sure, Ben and Jerry’s makes some delicious ice cream, but the Jewish owners have political views that are even more complicated than some of their bizarre recipes.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, childhood friends from New York, opened their first ice cream parlor in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont. As their names suggest, they are both Jewish. They began mass producing their unique flavors two years later. In 1987, they created Cherry Garcia, becoming the first ice cream company to name an ice cream after a rock star.
From the outset, the two ice cream entrepreneurs were interested in far more than cold cash. In 1994, Fred “Chico” Lager, a former CEO of the company, wrote “Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop” describing how the company was intended to be an expression of the founders’ social conscience. This was expressed by donating to charities but also by taking a stand against things like the use of bovine hormones in the dairy products they used a tnd inheir environmentally friendly cardboard containers. In 2005, they protested the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling by creating the world’s largest Baked Alaska (900 pounds of ice cream and meringue) and placing it on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building.
Their ice cream is universally regarded as delicious but their political agendas have gotten the company into hot water. In 2014, the Australian government accused the company of exaggerating the impact of government programs on the Barrier Reef when they signed onto “Fight for the Reef” campaign. In May 2017, Ben and Jerry’s announced they would not serve two scoops of the same ice cream flavor in Australia, due to the refusal of the Australian government to legalize same-sex marriage.
When it comes to domestic politics, their position is clear. During the last election, they created a new flavor, Bernie’s Yearning, in support of their candidate, Bernie Sanders, whom they preferred over Hillary Clinton. Cohen and Greenfield put their money where their mouth was and got arrested during the Democracy Awakening protests at the U.S. Capitol building in April 2016.
But when it comes to Israel, the two Jewish ice cream scoopers are getting heat from both sides of the issue. The company recently celebrated 40 years of totally kosher ice cream in Israel by giving out free cones. The same social values that guide their Vermont venture are also strongly present in their Israeli operation.
“Ben & Jerry’s corporate organization, based in the U.S., does not retain any profits from the business in Israel,” their website proudly states. “The company remains committed to contributing 100% of the net licensing fee to foster multicultural programs and values-led ingredient sourcing initiatives in the region.”
But their Holy Land stance, altruistic as it is, has earned them the ire of anti-Israel groups. In 2012, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) contacted the owners after learning that their ice cream was being sold in Israeli settlements Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem. Leafleting occurred at locations in Vermont, New York, and California on ‘Free Cone Day’ in April 2013, and April 2014. As of November 2014, 232 organizations across the United States and in seventeen countries worldwide have signed a letter written by VTJP calling on Ben & Jerry’s to end its commercial ties to these areas of Israel. So far, the company has refused to capitulate to the anti-Israel groups and continues to sell ice cream in Israel.
Their liberal agenda now has them partnering with anti-Israel elements. They recently announced a new flavor, Pecan Resist. The name of the new flavor is explained on the website:
“We honor & stand with women, immigrants, people of color, & the millions of activists and allies who are courageously resisting the President’s attack on our values, humanity, & environment.”
“This flavor supports groups creating a more just and equitable nation for us all, and who are fighting President Trump’s regressive agenda,” the company said upon unveiling the new flavor in Washington, D.C.
The company is donating proceeds from the flavor to four charities that, according to Ben and Jerry’s, “are working hard to defend and progress a more inclusive society, focusing on racial and gender equity, climate change, LGBTQ rights, and refugee and immigrant rights.”
One of the recipients, Women’s March, puts the company’s new political agenda at odds with its previously pro-Israel stance. Ostensibly an organization to advocate for women’s rights, Women’s March is run by two women who are certainly anti-Israel and are no friends to Jews.
One of the group’s leaders is Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American, who openly supports Sharia law, the Islamic Brotherhood and has called for “Jihad” against president Trump. Sarsour and Tamika Mallory, co-chair of the group, are strong supporters of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has referred to Jews as “termites” and praised Hitler’s genocide. Sarsour was a strong supporter of Rasmeah Odeh, who was imprisoned in Israel for her role in a bombing that killed two Israelis.
Her role as a leader in the feminist movement came into question after she verbally attacked Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a victim of female genital mutilation, and Brigitte Gabriel, the head of a conservative lobbying group. Ali criticized Islam, saying it was misogynistic. Sarsour tweeted, “ “She’s asking 4 an a$$ whippin’. I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women.
Ben and Jerry announced their support of the four groups with a tweet, showing the owners posing alongside Sarsour.
We are proud to announce that our newest flavor, Pecan Resist, supports the important work of @netargv, @womensmarch, @ColorOfChange, and @HonorTheEarth. Join them here >> https://t.co/b7mu4tVPYE pic.twitter.com/8fFJ6vL3vF
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) October 30, 2018
This attracted criticism.
Proud of you guys for being principled and idealistic. But i have to point out that your allignment with @lsarsour is wholly problematic considering her feelings on Jews and Israel. This wonderful gesture is tainted and leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.
— ARYE DWORKEN (@AryeDworken) October 31, 2018
In their response, the two ice cream makers seemed unperturbed.
Thank you for your respectful feedback. It's appreciated. We may not agree on everything, but the work that Linda has done to promote women’s rights is undeniably important and we are proud to join her in that effort.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) October 31, 2018