A prominent Palestinian human rights activist recently filed a complaint in New York state, charging that a Ben & Jerry’s boycott in the West Bank and occupied territories is contributing to “more hatred” in the strife-prone region.
Bassem Eid, 63, filed a complaint with New York state’s Division of Human Rights last month against Conopco Inc., the US division of Unilever that owns the popular ice cream brand.
Eid, a longtime activist who has been critical of abuses by both Israeli armed forces and the Palestinian Authority in the past, claimed the restriction on sales of ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories is “counterproductive to peace and creates only more hatred, enmity and polarization,” according to the complaint.
An award-winning human rights activist who was born in East Jerusalem and grew up in a United Nations-run refugee camp, Eid said the boycott will have an adverse effect on the people it is trying to help.
“I, as a Palestinian, as well as many of my friends, family and other Palestinians, are regular shoppers at Gush Etzion commercial center … where we also frequent to eat ice cream,” said Eid in the complaint. Eid is a resident of Jericho in the West Bank.
“This shopping area is the true realization of coexistence, as both Jews and Muslims from both Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories … work and shop here,” he said.
Eid likened the boycott to the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which many Jews have criticized as anti-Semitic. The complaint was filed under New York state’s Lisa Law that prevents New York businesses from engaging in anti-Israel boycott activity, said David Abrams, the New York-based attorney who filed the complaint on Eid’s behalf.
“The gangsters behind the BDS are causing a lot of damage to the Palestinians,” said Eid in a telephone interview from his home in Jericho. “I want to raise awareness among the US judicial system about how much damage they are causing. If they poured all of the money they are spending on boycotts into building factories and creating jobs in the West Bank and Gaza, it would go a long way to truly helping Palestinians.”
Ben & Jerry’s six-member independent board of directors voted in July to boycott sales of its ice cream in the Palestinian territory to protest Jewish settlements in the region. There are more than 600,000 Jews scattered in about 140 settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Opponents of Israeli policy consider the settlements illegal and want to grant land rights to Palestinians.
Unilever has said it does not support BDS, but Eid said the company has “aided and abetted” Ben & Jerry’s actions by “its refusal to overturn the boycott.”
Eid’s complaint comes on the heels of the New York state comptroller’s announcement last month that the state was pulling its pension fund investments from Unilever, which is based in London. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli yanked $111 million in equity investments from Unilever to protest the boycott.
“After a thorough review, the New York State Common Retirement Fund will divest its equity holdings in Unilever PLC,” DiNapoli said in a statement to The Post last month. “Our review of the activities of the company, and its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s, found they engaged in BDS activities under our pension fund’s policy.”
New Jersey has also pledged to divest $182 million in Unilever stock and bonds held by its pension funds over the boycott in Israeli-occupied territories. Other states, including Texas and Florida, have taken similar action.
A spokesman for Ben & Jerry’s refused comment, and referred a reporter to a page on the company’s website where it addresses the boycott. “Speaking and acting on our values is neither anti-Israel nor anti-Semitic,” the website says.
Emails and calls to Unilever were not returned this week.