The Vanilla Bean-DS Backfire

By: Rachel Gilinski  |  July 30, 2021

By Rachel Gilinski, Social Media Manager

Ice cream melts when it’s under fire, and ice cream icon Ben & Jerry’s did no different. 

Mounting backlash was aimed at Ben and Jerry’s after their silence throughout increasingly violent tension in the Israel-Palestine conflict this past May. The hashtag #HasBenAndJerrysTweetedYet trended on Twitter, with users snarkily pointing out that no, they hadn’t broken their silence, and there were even articles published discussing their silence. Supporters of the BDS movement, which aims to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel and its products, demanded Ben & Jerry’s stop selling in Israel, and Twitter users, in tweets (and more tweets) horrifyingly reminiscent of medieval-day blood libel, even insisted that they provided freezers to Israel to store dead Palestinian children in.

After two months of backlash surrounding their silence on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the ice cream brand finally announced via their social media accounts that “Ben & Jerry’s will end sales of [their] ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Anti-Israel social media users have been pushing for Ben & Jerry’s, the usually-progressive brand known for their spark of social justice, to take a pro-Palestine stance on the conflict, and their silence was noted. This new statement, Ben & Jerry’s first tweet in two months, did very little to silence the criticism. In fact, the statement only doubled the backlash.

Under scrutiny, this statement is as empty as the calories their ice cream contains. 

In their full statement, Ben & Jerry’s said that they “believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).” This infuriated many pro-Israel consumers. “That’s so ridiculous,” stated Batia Segal (SCW ’23), “It makes me fume.” Ridiculous is correct—as international human right lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky pointed out on his Twitter, Ben & Jerry’s operates in China, despite its human rights violation in Hong Kong and Uyghur ethnic cleansing. If Ben & Jerry’s operates only in places it deems to be consistent with its values, it seems like its values are inconsistent to begin with, and the singling-out of the only Jewish state does not go unnoticed.

This inconsistency is common in a culture dominated by performative activism. A student who chose to remain anonymous commented,“Seems like it could be hollow virtue signals in that they are clearly stating a public view, yet operationally not making significant changes.” The end of Ben & Jerry’s official statement heavily implies the aforementioned student is correct. While they will not be renewing the license they’ve long held with their licensee, and while they “will no longer be sold in the OPT,” Ben and Jerry’s intends to “stay in Israel through a different arrangement.” Ultimately, then, Palestinians living in the “OPT” will be the most likely to lose access to Ben & Jerry’s products, as any Israelis living there would have a far easier time entering Israel-proper and purchasing the ice cream there, if they so desired. Koby Rosinsky (YC ’23) echoed this sentiment, calling it “somewhat ironic that they’re essentially just keeping their product away from the Palestinians.”

The Half-Baked PR move left consumers on both sides of the geopolitical conflict dissatisfied. Pro-Israel consumers are upset at Ben & Jerry’s cowardice and refusal to continue openly supporting the State of Israel as they have in the past. “For me, personally,” said Ezra Emerson (SSSB ’23), “I think I would buy them less or not at all.” Even the Anti-Defamation League, America’s leading anti-antisemitism organization, called out Ben & Jerry’s. “You can disagree with policies without feeding into dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel,” they said in a Twitter post, adding that they are disappointed with the decision. While some Pro-Palestine consumers, including infamous anti-Zionists Linda Sarsour and Cori Bush, did praise the decision, most were dissatisfied and demanded more. Many are upset the brand essentially boycotted the wrong people, and others are upset Ben & Jerry’s said they will be staying in Israel, albeit under a different licensee. In short, then, the vast majority of Ben and Jerry’s consumers have been left unhappy. 

“More social media backlash” is not the only kind of backlash Ben & Jerry’s is facing. Their PR faux pas has led to real-world consequences for the brand, with supermarket chain Morton Williams curbing its sales and marketing of the ice cream. By all counts, Ben & Jerry’s is worse off. To paraphrase the State of Israel’s official Twitter account, Ben & Jerry’s really Fudged Up.