End Ben & Jerry’s Occupation! How come it doesn’t have the now-fashionable “Land Acknowlegment” on its cartons.
A letter signed by a thousand Israeli students accuses BDS-supporter Ben & Jerry’s of hypocrisy in illegally occupying Vermont land that belongs to Abenaki Indians while self-righteously refusing to do business in “occupied Palestinian territory.”
Israeli students claim that ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s is “illegally” occupying land in Vermont that once belonged to a Abenaki native American tribe and should practice what it preaches and immediately evacuate the properties.https://t.co/XyK3gmBrUk
— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) August 10, 2022
To recap the background: in July 2021, the ice cream company joined the BDS movement, announcing it would no longer sell ice cream in what it called “occupied Palestinian territory,” a/k/a Judea and Samaria. Ben & Jerry’s Israeli licensee, Avi Zinger, brought the ice cream to Israel some 35 years ago when the Vermont company was young. He both manufactures and distributes Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel. He refused to comply with the boycott. Last August, the ice cream company announced it wouldn’t renew Zinger’s license after it expires at the end of 2022. Zinger sued Ben & Jerry’s and its corporate owner, Unilever. The latter then sold Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel and the territories to Zinger. Ben & Jerry’s then sued Unilever, claiming the sale violated the rights of the ice cream company’s independent board, which was responsible for safeguarding its “social mission.” That suit is now pending.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) July 19, 2021
We’ve previously covered the controversy here:
- Ben & Jerry’s To Boycott “Occupied Palestinian Territory” Including Ancient Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem
- Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founders Defend Boycotting Israel, But Won’t Boycott Texas and Georgia
- Illinois Divests Pension Funds From Unilever Over Ben & Jerry’s Israel Boycott
- Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Israeli Company Sues Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever To Maintain License
- Anti-Israel Boycott Defeat – Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Will Continue Being Sold Throughout Israel
- Ben & Jerry’s Sues Corporate Parent Unilever To Thwart Sale Of Branded Ice Cream In Jewish Quarter of Old City, Judea and Samaria
- Ben & Jerry’s Case: Judge Skeptical About Claim Of Irreparable Harm
The letter, signed by more than a thousand Israeli students and academics affiliated with Students for Justice in America and supported by Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, accused Ben & Jerry’s of operating their Vermont factory on lands belonging to the Abenaki people. LIF reached out to Shurat HaDin requesting a copy of the letter, but did not receive a response. As reported in the New York Post, the letter included the following:
“We have concluded that your company’s occupation of the Abenaki lands is illegal and we believe it is wholly inconsistent with the stated values that Ben & Jerry’s purports to maintain. Ironically, in July of the last year you announced that you would discontinue the sale of your products in Israel because you object to the Jewish State allegedly occupying Palestinian territories,” the letter to B&J’s chairperson, Anuradha Mittal said…
“Ben and Jerry’s has never even offered to provide compensation to this indigenous nation in Vermont,” the letter from the students’ group, which is a counterpoint to Students for Justice in Palestine, which promotes the BDS movement against Israel, said.
“Justice, morality and boycotts are not just slogans and antisemitic weapons for your food company to point at the Jewish community in Israel. Justice and morality must begin at home.”
The students demanded that B&J immediately evacuate the properties “it occupies” in South Burlington, Waterbury and Saint Albans and “return them to the Abenaki people”, adding, “your company has no right to these stolen territories.”
As the letter states, the land where Ben & Jerry’s is based used to belong to the Abenaki, a Native American tribe that lived throughout what are now New England and New Brunswick at the time European colonists first arrived in New England. The tribe’s traditional homeland included Vermont, where Ben & Jerry’s headquarters is located. After having been welcomed by them (like the Abenaki chief Samoset, who welcomed the Pilgrims), English colonists fought several wars with the Abenaki and eventually forced the survivors to settle in what was then French Quebec.
Ben & Jerry’s has long claimed to embody values including “Human Rights & Dignity,” “Social & Economic Justice,” and “Environmental Protection, Restoration, & Regeneration.” Its website boasts about its “Progressive Values”:
We have a progressive, nonpartisan social mission that seeks to meet human needs and eliminate injustices in our local, national, and international communities by integrating these concerns in our day-to-day business activities…
- We seek and support nonviolent ways to achieve peace and justice. We believe government resources are more productively used in meeting human needs than in building and maintaining weapons systems.
Despite Ben & Jerry’s pretensions about its “progressivism” and “social mission,” its website includes no land acknowledgement accepting the problematic way European colonies gained control of the land from Native Americans. Such statements have become de rigueur among the politically correct.
For example, the University of Vermont, the campus of which is located about three miles away from Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, has a Land Acknowledgment on its website that states the following:
The UVM HESA Program acknowledges that the University of Vermont rests upon the traditional territory of the original inhabitants of this land – the Abenaki people – and the State of Vermont now occupies the lands of the Mahican and Pennacook tribes. We acknowledge that Indigenous Peoples were forced to leave Vermont during the 1600’s, and eastern tribes were displaced by colonial expansion.
We also recognize that these tribes are not extinct. With the exception of the descendants of the native peoples who fled to Canada, hid, or assimilated into white colonial society, few live in present-day Vermont. Since many Abenaki people retreated into Canada to avoid attack, the British considered them Canadian, but in fact the Abenakis were original natives of New England. Many familial groups that remained in Vermont were eradicated in the early 20th century through forced sterilization and pregnancy termination policies, with over 3,400 reported cases of sterilization. This was performed under the auspices of the “Brandon School of the Feeble-Minded” and the “Vermont Reform School” and was documented in the “1911 Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder’s Association to Study and Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population.”
We also recognize and acknowledge UVM’s problematic relationship with the land’s native descendants. Historically, Abenaki funeral urns were discovered and relegated to the custodianship of the institution, but human remains held in these urns were discarded and funeral “goods” traded by the institution to a museum in Uppsala, Sweden in exchange for a collection of folk art from northern Europe (Moody, 2011).
As we convene as members of The Vermont Connection to learn and collaborate in the interest of advancing educational equity, we recognize the Indigenous descendent communities on which university property rests and honor their loss.
Ben & Jerry’s has not issued a public statement about the letter, or responded to LIF’s inquiry about it.
Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center has provided LIF with a copy of the letter sent to Ben & Jerry’s. You can see it here. The letter, signed by 1,000 Israeli students and academics, was sent on behalf of a group called Students for Justice in America – an Israeli answer to the American group Students for Justice in Palestine. Ben & Jerry’s still hasn’t publicly responded to the letter. Perhaps they are realizing, People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
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