Ben & Jerry’s say pro-Gaza protests ‘essential’ to democracy

Ben & Jerry’s stopped selling its products in the occupied West Bank three years ago [Getty]

The board of the international ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s has praised the pro-Palestine protests which have swept across college campuses in the US, calling them “essential” to democracy.

“Student-led protests against the Vietnam War and Apartheid South Africa, and now the campus protests in solidarity with Gaza, are all 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.

Since 17 April, students at hundreds of universities in the US have protested calling for a Gaza ceasefire and divestment from Israel-linked companies, setting up permanent encampments.

The encampments have since inspired similar action around the world, including in France, Australia, Greece and Mexico.

In the US, students have also used their graduation ceremonies to highlight Israeli atrocities in Gaza. 

Israel has been widely accused of genocide in the territory, which has been completely devastated. Over 35,000 people have been killed in the past seven months, most of them women and children.

The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown in the US, with police arresting over 2,000 people and suspending many others.

Ben & Jerrys called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza in January, saying that “peace is a core value of the brand”.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Ben & Jerry’s board of directors’ chair Anuradha Mittal called for urgent action, comparing the latest statement from the company to its position on other global issues.

“From Iraq to Ukraine [the company] has consistently stood up for these principles. Today is no different as we call for peace and a permanent and immediate ceasefire,” Mittal told FT.   

The Vermont-based dairy dessert company announced it would stop selling its products in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories three years ago, following backlash from activists and human rights campaigners.

Ben & Jerry’s said it was “inconsistent” with its values to continue doing so, and their parent company Unilever said they would search for a “new arrangement” for selling their ice cream.

Unilever then offloaded its Israeli Ben & Jerry’s business to a local licensee, keeping the ice cream for sale in the country. The Ben and Jerry’s board sued to try to block the sale, and the lawsuit was later “resolved.”

Unilever did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The bombardment of Gaza has plunged the Palestinian territory into a deep humanitarian crisis, destroying infrastructure and medical facilities and levelling entire neighbourhoods.

Israel’s unprecedented attacks on the besieged enclave have also caused widespread starvation, with the World Food Programme (WFP) stating that around 1.1 million people in Gaza are facing catastrophic levels of hunger, with the situation particularly dire in the north.

Agencies contributed to this report.


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