News from July 19 to July 25

Special announcement, Ben & Jerry's ends West Bank sales, Israeli cyber firm faces human rights abuse allegations

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Ben and Jerry’s announces it is ending ice cream sales in the West Bank:

What happened? This past week, popular ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would no longer sell its products in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (The company did not specify its definition of occupied Palestinian Territory, though that designation typically refers to the West Bank and Gaza). In a statement, Ben & Jerry’s said that continuing its operations would be “inconsistent” with the company’s values. While Ben & Jerry’s will not be sold in the West Bank after December 2022, Unilever, the ice cream maker’s parent company, decided Ben & Jerry’s would continue selling products within Israel proper. The West Bank is occupied by Israel, though the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords granted the Palestinian Authority limited autonomy over portions of the territory.

Does Ben & Jerry’s support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement? Ben & Jerry’s is the latest example of companies boycotting Israel in hopes of influencing Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. However, though Ben & Jerry’s move to end distribution in the West Bank seemingly aligns with the BDS movement’s goal to economically isolate Israel for its presence in the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip, the decision was more nuanced. While BDS aims to sanction all of Israel for its activities in the Palestinian territories, Ben & Jerry’s new policy only targets the West Bank, rather than the entirety of the state of Israel. Thus, it is not a pure example of BDS.

Source: Ben & Jerry’s.

How has the United States reacted? Several American governors and state lawmakers have voiced their frustration with Ben & Jerry’s. Moreover, Five states (Florida, Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York) are looking into taking legal action against Unilever, all of which currently have anti-BDS laws that could allow them to sever financial ties with Unilever. For example, in Florida, Governor Ron Desantis initiated a process pursuant to a 2016 anti-BDS law that could allow Florida to terminate its investments in Unilever. While such a move would affect state-level financial dealings with the firm, it would not prevent Floridians from buying Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in stores. The other four states have taken similar steps to examine possible future action.

What are people saying? Here are some highlights:

Prime Minister Bennett: "There are many ice cream brands, but only one Jewish state. Ben & Jerry's has decided to brand itself as the anti-Israel ice cream. This decision is morally wrong and I believe that it will become clear that it is also commercially wrong. The boycott against Israel – a democracy surrounded by islands of terrorism – reflects a total loss of way. The boycott does not work and will not work, and we will fight it with full force."

Boycott, Divest, Sanctions Movement (BDS): “The BDS movement welcomes Ben and Jerry’s decision as a decisive step towards ending the company's complicity in Israel's occupation and violation of Palestinian rights. Ben and Jerry’s, a leading socially responsible international company, is finally bringing its policy on Israel’s regime of oppression against Palestinians in line with its progressive positions on Black Lives Matter and other justice struggles. We hope Ben and Jerrys realizes has understood that, in harmony with its social justice commitments, there can be no business as usual with apartheid Israel.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami (President of JStreet): “Ben & Jerry’s decision is a legitimate, peaceful protest against the systemic injustice of occupation and a reminder that the settlements are, in fact, illegal under international law.”

American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): “It is discriminatory and against the interests of peace and reconciliation to launch a one-sided boycott when it is the Palestinian leadership that refuses to come to the negotiating table with Israel.”

Anything else? According to the Vice President of the company’s local distributor in the West Bank, Hen Israeli, some Palestinians could be hurt by the decision; Israeli told the Jerusalem Post that there are currently 10 local Palestinians employed by the distribution company.

Another interesting component of the story is that although the announcement did not target the entirety of Israel, it was not for lack of trying. According to various media reports, Ben & Jerry’s pushed for a blanket ban of Israel, but Unilever adjusted the language to only target the West Bank.

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Israeli NSO Group faces allegations of human rights violations:

What happened? Last week, journalists from over 15 publications all over the world published stories detailing the operations and clientele of the Israeli cyber-espionage firm the NSO Group. The reports, based on a leaked list of phone numbers that Amnesty International claims contains NSO group targets, suggested that the NSO Group has used its “Pegasus” software to target journalists, dissidents, and human rights advocates in countries all over the world. NSO clients are reported to include government agencies in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, India, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, Hungary, and France. Pegasus allows users to extract messages and recordings from mobile phones and reportedly enables operators to secretly record targets using their cameras and microphones. 

Who was targeted by Pegasus? Amnesty International claims that the NSO Group has targeted at least 180 journalists in 20 countries. According to the Washington Post, more than ten heads of state were also targeted. “[Here’s who is on the list: Three sitting presidents, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Iraq’s Barham Salih and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. Three current prime ministers, Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Egypt’s Mostafa Madbouly and Morocco’s Saad-Eddine El Othmani. Seven former prime ministers, who according to time stamps on the list were placed there while they were still in office: Yemen’s Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, Lebanon’s Saad Hariri, Uganda’s Ruhakana Rugunda, France’s Édouard Philippe, Kazakhstan’s Bakitzhan Sagintayev, Algeria’s Noureddine Bedoui and Belgium’s Charles Michel. And one king: Morocco’s Mohammed VI.” Additionally, the Verge reported that Pegasus targeted 85 human rights activists. 

What has the NSO Group said? In a statement, the company said, “NSO Group will continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action based on the results of these investigations. This includes shutting down of a customers’ system, something NSO has proven its ability and willingness to do, due to confirmed misuse, done it multiple times in the past, and will not hesitate to do again if a situation warrants.”

Referring to the list of numbers, an NSO group lawyer said, “The leaked list of 50,000 numbers is not a list of numbers selected for surveillance using Pegasus. It is a list of numbers that anyone can search on an open-source system for reasons other than conducting surveillance using Pegasus. The fact that a number appears on that list is in no way indicative of whether that number was selected for surveillance using Pegasus.”

How has Israel reacted? Israel has formed a task force to respond to the situation. According to media reports, the task force, which consists of officials from across the Israeli government, will consider changes to Israel’s cyber export rules. Israeli leaders are reportedly concerned that the fallout from the Pegasus revelations could affect other Israeli businesses.

Anything else? This story is a really big deal. Israel already struggles to promote a positive image of itself, and episodes like the NSO revelations seriously tarnish Israel’s image, especially since the NSO group reportedly retains close connections to the Israeli government. It remains to be seen whether this will have a long-term impact, but Israel’s association with a number of potential human rights violations in a plethora of countries is a bad look.

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Honorable Mentions:

Olympic News:

“Algerian judoka said to quit Olympics in order to not face Israeli opponent” (The Times of Israel)

“Full schedule for Israel’s athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics” by Michael Bachner (The Times of Israel)

“Olympics Opening Ceremony Director Fired Over Past Holocaust Joke” by Aaron Bandler (Jewish Journal)

“19-year-old taekwando fighter wins Israel’s first Olympic medal in Tokyo” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

“After 49 years Israelis killed at 1972 Munich Games remembered in opening ceremony” by Karolos Grohmann (Reuters)

“Tokyo Olympics: All the Jewish athletes to watch” by Emily Burrack (JTA)

“Meet the Jewish dancer choreographing Simone Biles’ Olympic floor routine” by Evelyn Frick (Alma)

General News:

“Rabbi stabbed in antisemitic attack said assailant ‘planned for this’” by Julia Gergely (Forward)

‘Daniel Hernandez wants to be the next pro-Israel progressive in Congress” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider)

“A Palestinian Activist Fights the IDF and the Palestinian Authority” by Elhanan Miller (Tablet)

“Cuban Jews step up for their patria” by Gabby Deutch (Jewish Insider)

“Israeli Air Force strikes Gaza Strip in response to incendiary balloons” (The Jerusalem Post)

“Legendary Jewish stand-up comedian Jackie Mason dies at 93” (JNS)

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