Mainstream media silent as US pulls out of Unilever over Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israel



Pots of ice cream are seen as a worker works at the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel, July 20, 2021. REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun

The decision by Ben & Jerry’s independent board of directors in July to end sales in disputed territories in Israel sparked a media day. Countless articles and opinion pieces have been published which proclaimed that the brand of ice cream was “Change the moral calculation” and at the height of its “Progressive values”.

The subsequent backlash from Israeli politicians has been widely reported (see, for example, here, here, and here).

HonestReporting published several articles that laid bare the legal implications that could arise as a result of the company’s action, particularly because 35 US states have passed laws to counter the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

These predictions regarding complications for Ben & Jerry’s (and parent company Unilever) have now come true after several US states, including New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Maryland and Rhode Island, launched a reviewing their investments with Unilever.

Earlier this month, Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee announced that all state funds would be withdrawn from the British conglomerate, in accordance with a state law that prohibits investments or contracts with companies or individuals participating in boycotts against Israel. Investments in Unilever were reduced from $ 143 million to $ 50 million on June 30, while the rest were due to be withdrawn this week.

Similarly, the 2016 legislation prohibiting state pension funds from being invested in companies that boycott Israeli businesses, goods or products prompted the Investments Division of the Treasury Department of the New Jersey to send a letter to Unilever, informing the company of the state’s intention to divest itself of approximately $ 182 million.

Despite these rapid financial repercussions for Unilever, a number of mainstream media have been blatantly silent about these developments.

The Guardian, for example, published numerous articles on the Ben & Jerry’s boycott in July and early August, including an opinion piece authored by Mark Hage of the pro-BDS group Vermonters for Justice in Palestine. Another piece was titled, “Corporate activism is too often cynical. In the case of Ben & Jerry, it offers hope», Written by columnist Nesrine Malik.

CNN also published several articles on the announcement made by the board of directors of Ben & Jerry’s, including one stating that the company would no longer sell its products in the “occupied Palestinian territories”.

However, both of these outlets neglected to print articles informing their readers of the most recent important events.

When many states passed anti-BDS legislation, they did so because it was clear that such economic actions targeting Israel were part of a comprehensive campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.

In March 2016, for example, the Houses of Delegates of Virginia declared that such a law was necessary because the BDS movement is “inherently antithetical and deeply prejudicial to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy and human rights for all the peoples of the Middle East. Est. “In a motion condemning BDS, Tennessee lawmakers called the movement” one of the primary vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating for the elimination of the Jewish state. “

As HonestReporting made it clear from the start, the boycott of Ben & Jerry’s was not just a free speech issue, it was a legal issue. Yet rather than reporting this – or the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and these so-called “occupied” territories – media such as The Guardian and CNN, among others, chose to ignore it. Now they have a duty to account for this legal fallout and the other side of the story regarding the misguided boycott of Ben & Jerry.

Rachel O’Donoghue contributes to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog that focuses on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel prejudice, where a version of this article first appeared.


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