State rep says Ice cream maker’s actions in Israel were anti-Semitic
Ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s announced this week it plans to stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem because such sales are “inconsistent with our values.”
State Rep. Aaron Kaufer sees the move as an example of anti-Semitism, and is among those has called on Pennsylvania officials to enforce a state procurement law prohibiting the state from contracting with companies that boycott Israel.
“The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions — or BDS — movement is little more than a poorly hidden anti-Semitic economic attack,” Kaufer, R-Kingston, said. “It isn’t about Palestinian rights, or a Palestinian state, but as backers of the BDS chant ‘the river to the sea,’ it’s about eliminating the Jewish people from Israel.”
In its statement, Ben & Jerry’s also said it had informed its longtime Israeli partner that it will not renew its license agreement when it expires at the end of 2022.
While noting it would not serve Israeli-occupied areas, it said it would continue to provide ice cream in Israel “through a different arrangement,” but that has not been specified.
It remains unclear how Ben & Jerry’s plans to do that. Israeli supermarket chains, a primary distribution channel for the cleverly named flavors of ice cream, operate in the settlements, and under Israeli law, people or companies that boycott the settlements can be sued, the Associated Press reported.
Kaufer spoke Monday night with the Israeli Consulate and Tuesday he called on Gov. Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state Treasurer Stacy Garrity to enforce Act 163 of 2016, which prohibits state agencies, or affiliates, from contracting with companies engaged in a boycott of Israel.
The bill passed the House 181-9, and the Senate 47-1.
Kaufer said Ben & Jerry’s plans to end sales in parts of Israel, and to refrain from renewing its licensing agreement with an Israeli subsidiary, trigger Act 163 — which, he said, specifies that it is “in the interest of the United States and the Commonwealth to stand with Israel and other countries by promoting trade and commercial activities and to discourage policies that disregard that interest.”
Act 163 of 2016 states that a company contracted by the Commonwealth is not permitted to be involved in a boycott, or to refuse “to deal with a person or firm when the action is based on race, color, religion, gender or national affiliation of the person or entity.”
Kaufer sent a letter to Wolf, Shapiro and Garrity to confirm they will uphold Pennsylvania law and end any sales or contracts with any state office, agency or affiliate, including vendors, that sell or offer Ben & Jerry’s products.
“Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly are united in taking a strong stand in the fight against prejudice,” Kaufer said. “I hope and expect Gov. Wolf, Attorney General Shapiro and Treasurer Garrity to uphold our historic opposition to discrimination and stand with one of America’s strongest allies. It is the law, and we expect it to be followed.”
“I call on the three of you to ensure Pennsylvania state government, agencies and affiliates, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike, State System of Higher Education, state-related universities, parks, prisons, and others end any affiliation or serving of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream,” he wrote.
Kaufer’s letter to Wolf, Shapiro and Garrity can be found in full at the bottom of this story.
Kaufer did receive a reply from Shapiro. The email was sent to Kaufer from Adrienne Muller, Government Affairs, Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro. It said:
“The Attorney General received your letter and wants to be sure you receive a timely response. Our statement is below:
“BDS is rooted in antisemitism. The stated goal of this amorphous movement is the removal of Jewish citizens from the region and I strongly oppose their efforts. Gov. Wolf rightfully signed a bill 5 years ago which passed with broad bipartisan support to prevent the stain of BDS from taking hold in Pennsylvania. I expect Commonwealth agencies with jurisdiction to enforce the Act.”
Kaufer received this statement from Secretary Garrity:
“I applaud Rep. Kaufer for bringing public attention to this issue. As the General Assembly stated in Act 163 of 2016, Israel is America’s dependable, democratic ally – and it is in the interest of the United States and Pennsylvania to stand with Israel by promoting trade and commerce, and to discourage policies that disregard that interest.
“Treasury will continue to thoroughly review every disbursement to ensure that Act 163 is followed.”
Garrity’s Press Secretary, Samantha Galvez, told Kaufer that Section 1502 of the Fiscal Code establishes Treasury’s pre-audit authority.
“Treasury is required to ensure that all monetary disbursements of the Commonwealth are authorized, accurate, and in compliance with applicable statutes, regulations, and management policies,” Galvez said. “Obviously that includes Act 163 of 2016, which prohibits state agencies, or affiliates, from contracting with companies engaged in a boycott of Israel.”
According to the Associated Press, Israel’s prime minister vowed Tuesday to “act aggressively” against the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories, as the country’s ambassador to the U.S. urged dozens of state governors to punish the company under anti-boycott laws.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said he spoke with Alan Jope, chief executive of Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever, and raised concern about what he called a “clearly anti-Israel step.” He said the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise,” and Israel “will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment directly on the company’s decision. But he said the U.S. rejects the boycott movement against Israel, saying it “unfairly singles out” the country.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, Gilad Erdan, sent letters to 35 governors whose states have laws against boycotting Israel asking that they consider speaking out against Ben & Jerry’s decision “and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben & Jerry’s and your state.”
Erdan said Israel views the company’s decision as “the de-facto adoption of anti-Semitic practices and advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the dehumanization of the Jewish people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
In his letter to Gov. Wolf, Attorney General Shapiro, and Treasurer Garrity, Kaufer wrote:
“As you know, the Jewish people faced oppression and discrimination wherever they lived, from expulsions, pogroms, forced conversions and genocide. Less than 80 years ago, the latest attempt at total Jewish destruction – the Holocaust – was defeated. Afterward, the world voted for and recognized the State of Israel, where Jews inhabited the land for a millennium.
“Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that Israel will guarantee the ‘complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.’
“These are the same values we hold in Pennsylvania, in fact, you could say we were founded upon these same principles. As Israel in the only nation in the Middle East to ensure these rights, it is in our interest to ensure Israel’s fair treatment.
“I call on the three of you to ensure Pennsylvania state government, agencies and affiliates, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike, State System of Higher Education, state-related universities, parks, prisons, and others end any affiliation or serving of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
“While Ben & Jerry’s surrendered to a continuous and aggressive campaign from extreme anti-Jewish and anti-Israel groups, doesn’t mean we should condone it. We must work together, enforce the law and stand with Israel.