Ben & Jerry's defended its decision to restrict its sales in Israel on Monday, with the founder telling the anti-Israel activist group Americans for Peace Now that he was "proud" of the boycott.
"We did it. We're proud of it," said Ben & Jerry's founder Ben Cohen on the Monday call, even as the company faces legal blowback from several U.S. states. "We consistently use our voice to stand up for justice, and the amazing thing that we discovered over the years is that the more we do that, the more ice cream we sell."
At least eight U.S. states have said they are considering sanctioning Ben & Jerry's, or its parent company Unilever, under anti-boycott laws, after the ice cream maker announced that it would halt sales in Jewish neighborhoods in disputed areas of Israel, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The conference call was hosted by the left-leaning Americans for Peace Now and included Ben & Jerry's board chairwoman Anuradha Mittal and Suhad Babaa, the director of Just Vision, a group that advocates for the anti-Israel boycott movement. Peter Beinart, a writer who opposes the existence of a Jewish state and has been working internally with Ben & Jerry's to defend its boycott efforts, was also on the call.
Cohen denied that the company's decision was driven by anti-Jewish sentiment. He said he supports the notion of a Jewish state and did not realize that other people were living in the area prior to the establishment of Israel.
"I understand that at the end of World War II, these countries got together and said the Jews should have a homeland. Yes, I agree with that. I was under the impression at the time that there were not people living in that area, but apparently there were, and they did not like the idea of a Jewish homeland being established where they were living, and I understand that," Cohen said.
Cohen called on outside groups and individuals to speak out publicly in support of Ben & Jerry's as it faces backlash over its decision.
"People need to speak up and speak up publicly. It's much more effective for people that are not Ben & Jerry's to be defending Ben & Jerry’s than it is for Ben & Jerry's to be defending itself," Cohen said.
Mittal, the chairwoman of the Ben & Jerry’s board and the director of a nonprofit group that has published defenses of Hezbollah and Hamas, claimed that critics of the Ben & Jerry's decision were "spreading lies and myths."
"We need to learn to disagree with each other in a respectful fashion," Mittal said. "We have to lend our voices as citizens because, as Ben pointed out, governments and war-mongers, those hawks that profiteer from war, that has to end."
She said the company board and management were both in agreement over the boycott of Israeli neighborhoods in contested parts of the country, but they have yet to decide whether to cease sales in Israel entirely.
Mittal asked listeners to also support Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry's, because it "respected the acquisition agreement" that allowed the ice cream company's board to institute the boycott. Unilever has said it does not support boycotts of Israel but is tied by the acquisition agreement.
U.S. and Israeli political leaders have criticized Ben & Jerry's over the decision, and officials in Arizona, Florida, New York, and other states have been weighing potential sanctions against the company.