Who cares what Ben & Jerry’s think about Israel-Palestine?

20 July 2021

11:44 PM

20 July 2021

11:44 PM

When you think of the Israel-Palestine conflict, ice cream doesn’t usually come up. But that may be about to change. Ben & Jerry’s has finally broken its silence, announcing yesterday that it will ‘end sales of our ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territory’. Perhaps in the years ahead we’ll come to see this depriving Israeli settlers of Caramel Chew Chew and Truffle Kerfuffle as some kind of tipping point.

We won’t, of course, because that’s ridiculous. As is a Vermont-based over-priced ice-cream brand weighing in on far-flung conflicts. But that seems to be where we’re at now – with corporate America in general and with Ben & Jerry’s in particular. Now no modish cause is too important or complicated for big-name brands to weigh in, be it defunding the police in the US or settlements in the West Bank.

Ben & Jerry’s – founded by two hippies, but now owned by corporate giant Unilever – has become increasingly outspoken in recent years. Back in 2017, it took a brave stand for gay marriage in Australia by banning the sale of two scoops of the same flavour in Aussie shops. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, it issued a solemn pledge to ‘dismantle white supremacy’, and issued then president Trump and the US Congress with a series of demands.

That its first foray into Middle Eastern politics focuses on Israel and Palestine shouldn’t really surprise us. Just as it is for woke celebrities, this conflict is now apparently being used by woke corporates as a stage on which to perform their own virtue. One wonders if this policy will be consistent across other disputed territories across the world. But I think we already know the answer to that question.

One question that is more puzzling is why more and more corporations feel the need to do this kind of thing, so much of which feels hollow and hypocritical. Ben & Jerry’s may bang on about ‘white supremacy’, but its parent firm Unilever continues to sell skin-whitening cream in India. Last summer, Ben & Jerry’s had a go at Priti Patel on Twitter over immigration. This is the same firm that has been the target of protests by migrant workers who have alleged awful, exploitative practices in the firm’s supply chain.

It would be easy, then, to dismiss woke capitalism as simply opportunistic. Often these firms’ PR departments do not appear to have thought much about the issues they are holding forth on. But that so many firms carry on doing this, risking controversy and enraging customers along the way, suggests it is all on some level sincere.

Increasingly self-loathing business leaders see in debates around race, identity and even Israel a moral purpose they otherwise feel they lack. But that doesn’t make the hectoring of firms like Ben & Jerry’s any easier to swallow.

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