The Absurd Ben & Jerry's Panic Is No Laughing Matter

It is part of a chilling campaign to stifle free speech here in the U.S. and to delegitimize all protest of Israel’s illegal occupation.

The Israeli government’s panicked reaction to the announcement that Ben & Jerry’s would no longer sell its products in the occupied Palestinian territories has been amusing to watch, but it is part of a chilling campaign to stifle free speech here in the U.S. and to delegitimize all protest of Israel’s illegal occupation. Senior government officials have labeled the decision to respect international law and not sell in the occupied territories as anti-Semitism and terrorism, and they have called on almost three dozen American state governors to enforce their blatantly unconstitutional anti-BDS laws against the company. On one level, this is absurd and the Israeli government is making a mockery of itself, but this is no laughing matter.

When you watch the Israeli government denounce an ice cream company for recognizing the distinction between Israel’s illegal settlements and Israel itself, it is important to remember that the same government wants to erase that distinction. The government would not be reacting so furiously if it were otherwise. When the Israeli government launches an all-out assault on a company for boycotting illegal settlements in illegally occupied territories as an attack on Israel, it is because they see those settlements as an integral part of Israel and they mean to keep expanding them. While they pursue their creeping annexation, they want to intimidate foreign companies from protesting against it. The government wants to make an example of Ben & Jerry’s because they fear that more companies will follow suit unless the costs of doing so are deemed to be prohibitive.

The Biden administration’s response to these intimidation tactics of an American company has been underwhelming to say the least. All that the hapless State Department spokesman, Ned Price, could manage to say about it is that the administration opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as if this were more important than the effort by a foreign government to threaten Americans’ exercise of free speech. If the Israeli government succeeds in getting some of the states to enforce their unconstitutional laws in this case, that could eventually lead to a Supreme Court ruling that strikes down all of these laws for being the obvious infringements of Americans’ First Amendment rights that they are. Up until now, anti-BDS laws have mostly been used to penalize contract workers without the means to fight back, but using them against a major company might end up backfiring on the laws’ supporters. Regardless, the Israeli government’s obnoxious effort to coordinate an attack on Americans’ constitutional rights needs to be condemned and opposed right now.