Israel Screams for Ice Cream: The Minutiae and Madness of a Toxic Relationship

No matter how powerful or influential, a nation’s government is ultimately just a pack of people – a clique of flawed and fallible human beings. Now I don’t know about you, but in my own wee experience, when a person over-the-top-overreacts over some small matter – this tends to mask a massive insecurity, blind spot, or profound sense of guilt. Which is to say, their outwardly-directed verbal venom is really about them. So too with governments.

Take the latest exhibit in the (should-be) ongoing case against Israel’s criminal repression of Palestinians, and Washington’s toxic codependent relationship with Tel Aviv. On Monday, the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream company announced that it was ending sales in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Big whoop and so what, right? Wrong.

When prominent Israeli politicians and their transnational booster-boys heard the news there’d be no more Chunky Monkey in Modi’in Illit, or Half Baked in Beitar Illit, the response was more like: Dear God! Gasp! Treachery! Oh the wretchedness! Nutty as that seems – and it is – there’s much to be gleaned from the ensuing freak out.

"People in Glass Houses…"

So let’s look at some of the more prominent verbal "stone throwers" among Israeli leaders. Consider it an exercise in hypocrisy-exposure. For starters, (only just) former prime minister, the fallen "King Bibi" Netanyahu tweeted "Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy." Well, beyond excommunicating the Ben&Jerry’s franchise, Bibi also apparently knows which people not to enfranchise – seeing as his policies essentially attempted to cancel an entire culture along with even a shred of political or voting rights. After all, Netanyahu is the same moral beacon who tweeted two years ago that, "Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and them alone."

Then we were treated to another ethical lecture from current Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who called the company’s West Bank-pullout decision "morally wrong" and pronounced that, "Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as the anti-Israeli ice cream." You gotta love getting virtue lessons (or are they signals?) from a fellow so fine he’s also offered up such classic ditties as: "I will do everything in my ability, forever, to prevent a Palestinian state from being founded within the land of Israel;" and "If you catch terrorists, you have to simply kill them… I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that."

The Israeli-right sure does know how to play the hits!

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the company’s move a "shameful surrender to antisemitism," whilst the staunchly pro-Israeli government advocacy group, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said it feeds "into dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel." Naturally, Lapid doesn’t extend his discrimination concerns to local Arabs, having also once said "The Palestinians must be brought to an understanding that Jerusalem will always remain under Israeli sovereignty and that there is no point for them in opening negotiations about Jerusalem." And, umm…that same ADL’s declaration last year – arguing that calls for a single state with equal rights for all inhabitants in Israel and the Palestinian territories "are themselves antisemitic" – reads as just a tad, shall we say, anti-Palestinian. Then again, having it both ways without a thread of self-awareness is Hypocrisy 101.

Free Speech and a Free Palestine

This Israeli leadership meltdown (pun – Ba Dum Tsh! – intended) of a reaction was way out of proportion on a number of levels. First off, the company clearly and carefully emphasized that it’s not boycotting the whole country – "we will stay in Israel," per an official statement – just pulling out of markets in the (illegally) occupied West Bank. Furthermore, the UK firm Unilever, which has owned Ben&Jerry’s since 2000, stated that it remained "fully committed" to maintaining a presence in Israel.

Besides, what’s really at issue here are freedom of speech and the freedom of a people – which the US has enabled Israel to deny for decades. One needn’t even be pro-BDS – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, meant to economically-pressure Israel to end its illegal occupation – to be anti anti-BDS laws. That’s right, more than half of America’s states have passed anti-BDS laws which penalize companies that decide to boycott Israel. And speaking of hypocrisy, plenty of those states are Deep-Red-Republican ones that supposedly staunchly support the government divesting from a free economy.

This then led to the absurdity-of-absurdities – a foreign foreign minister (Lapid) calling on individual American states to punish an individual ice cream company. Israel’s top diplomat tweeted out that "Over 30 states in the United States have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent years," and "I plan on asking each of them to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s. They will not treat the State of Israel like this without a response." Imagine the audacity – seriously! A hyper-militarist, international and human rights-law-violator extraordinaire of a country – with the population of New York City – daring to dictate the agenda of a superpower’s sub-states.

Something is awry, and it’s us – Israel and America alike – we’re just bad together. Toxic. For ourselves and for the trail of victims our collaboration has left in its 50-plus year wake.

In their absurd overreactions, the Israeli government, its leaders, and many trans-Atlantic backers are outing themselves faster than Cherry Garcia gets out of Jericho. Equally (self-)exposed is Washington’s irrational and immoral enabler-enabled "special" relationship with an increasingly right-wing, religious- and ethno-chauvinist Team Tel Aviv.

In its brief statement, Ben&Jerry’s said that it believes that continuing to sell in the Occupied Territories would be "inconsistent with our values." If only the American government lived its values half as much as a single Vermont-based ice cream company…

Note: In the interest of disclosure: the author has collaborated with Ben Cohen of Ben&Jerry’s on a number of professional projects, including podcast interviews and the the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). That said, neither Ben Cohen nor the Ben&Jerry’s company were in any way involved in the development or direction of this column. The opinions here are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the co-founders or current leadership of Ben&Jerry’s.

Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, the director of the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), contributing editor at, and co-hosts the podcast “Fortress on a Hill.” His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative, and Mother Jones, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught history at West Point. He is the author of three books, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge, Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War, and most recently A True History of the United States. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.

Copyright 2021 Danny Sjursen