Ben & Jerry’s board applauds anti-Israel campus protests as ‘essential’ to democracy

In January, Anuradha Mittal, chair of the Ben & Jerry’s board of directors, called for a ‘permanent and immediate’ ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

The board of the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s said the anti-Israel protests sweeping college and university campuses across the US and other Western countries are “essential” to democracy.

“Lunch counter sit-ins, student-led protests against the Vietnam War and Apartheid South Africa, and now the campus protests in solidarity with Gaza, all are part of our rich history of free speech and non-violent protest that makes change and is essential to a strong democracy,” the independent board said in a statement.

The Vermont-based ice cream maker, which was founded by Jewish childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British conglomerate Unilever but has an independent board of directors.

In January, Anuradha Mittal, chair of the Ben & Jerry’s board of directors, called for a “permanent and immediate” ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Cohen and Greenfield sold the company to Unilever in 2000 for $326 million. The board remains autonomous and Cohen and Greenfield do not have an official role in the company.

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In 2021, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would stop selling its products in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — areas it called “occupied Palestinian territories” — because it was “inconsistent” with the company’s values.

The founders of Ben & Jerry’s shortly afterward said in an op-ed for the New York Times that they support the move, calling it “not anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace.”

However, the decision resulted in intense backlash, with many states pulling its investments, stocks and pension funds from Unilever because of Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israel.

In response, Unilever sold the Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel to a local licensee, Avi Zinger, who has continued to oversee the company’s ice cream in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Ben & Jerry’s responded to the move by filing a lawsuit against Unilever in an attempt to block the sale, and the lawsuit was settled in 2022.

The ice cream company’s latest statement came amid a wave of anti-Israel demonstrations that have upended the end of the academic year for several universities.

For nearly a month, college students have been amassing in the hundreds at a growing number of schools, taking over sections of campus by setting up “Gaza Solidarity Encampments” and refusing to leave unless administrators condemn and boycott Israel.

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Footage of the protests has shown demonstrators chanting in support of Hamas, calling for the destruction of Israel, and even threatening to harm members of the Jewish community on campus.

In many cases, activists have also lambasted the US and Western civilization more broadly.