Robert Azzi: Ben & Jerry’s, BDS, booza and chocolate sprinkles

For the Monitor
Published: 7/25/2021 8:00:17 AM

My love for ice cream and its many iterations (especially with chocolate sprinkles) emerged at an early age and has never abandoned me! Some of my earliest ice cream memories are of walking on hot summer nights with my mother and younger brother to Yvette’s Restaurant — mommy would always get strawberry on a sugar cone, I had chocolate, he often tried different flavors.

We all had sprinkles.

The summer I graduated from high school I had three jobs: an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift as roving-frame-tender in the mills, a day job at Jim’s Men’s Shop, and a weekend gig dishing out ice cream to customers at the Puritan Ice Cream Drive-In.

Some wanted sprinkles.

When I lived in Beirut, where Lebanese social life often continued till dawn, denizens of the night could often be found deep in the souk at Al-Ajami’s Restaurant, famous for its sorbets and ice creams, my favorites being mango and honeydew.

The house specialty was “booza,” a stretchy and chewy dessert made with mastic and sahlab (flour made from the tubers of the orchid genus Orchis) much like the Ottoman-inspired Turkish dondurma.

No sprinkles. No sugar cones.

Booza, an Arabic word used by many for all forms of ice cream.

This week in Exeter, I went out and bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra Core, chocolate and caramel ice cream with fudge chips and a soft caramel core. And a side of chocolate sprinkles!

This week I, among many, including many Americans and Israelis opposed to the occupation, celebrated with ice cream over Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop allowing its ice cream to be sold in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying such sales were “inconsistent with our values,” affirming, as most of the world believes, that Israeli settlements in those territories are illegal.

Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers the whole city its eternal and undivided capital, even though the annexation isn’t recognized internationally. Israel, also in defiance of international law, says the West Bank should be considered disputed territory, which it is not.

Ben & Jerry’s initiative refocused attention on Israel’s long-running battle against the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led grassroots campaign that, since July 2005, promotes non-violent boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities. A Palestinian movement, as I’ve previously written, I support. Just as I supported the boycott of apartheid South Africa.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said in response to the ice cream initiative that “Rapid and determined action must be taken to counter such discriminatory and anti-Semitic actions … ”

However, Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J-Street, a pro-Isreal, pro-peace liberal advocacy group, said it wasn’t anti-Semitism to differentiate between Israel-proper and illegal settlements. “Instead of demonizing and attacking companies and individuals for making principled decisions … [Israel’s] leaders would make a greater contribution to the fight against anti-Semitism by helping to bring the unjust and harmful occupation to a peaceful end.”

Ben & Jerry’s is not anti-Israel but anti-occupation, and hopefully, their action will succeed in shedding light on a conflict that persists between forces of occupation and oppression and forces of freedom and liberation.

If Israel considers the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean one Jewish state, which it does, then I believe one cannot morally support a boycott of the occupied territories without equally condemning the state that has legitimized, tolerated, financed and protected those settlements since 1967.

Recently, Israeli soldiers demolished the West Bank village of Humsa, and according to an EU-supported consortium of international aid agencies, loaded the residents’ personal possessions on trucks and dropped them off miles away. 65 Palestinians were displaced, including 35 children, and rendered the resisting villagers, herders with 4,000 sheep, homeless for the seventh time in months because Israel has arbitrarily designated their grazing lands “live fire zones.”

Displacing occupied peoples from their homes are acts that totally defy both moral values and international law that unequivocally state that an occupying power is prohibited from transferring residents of the occupied population from their communities against their will.

Palestinians live in a world where they are terrorized by the presence of approximately 700,000 illegal occupants sitting on their land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Occupiers who cut down their olive trees, seize or burn their crops and pastures, seize their land, are denied access to electricity and water, and are often beaten and shot without provocation and without consequences to their persecutors.

They are denied self-determination, free expression and free movement and are often arbitrarily detained and jailed.

An editorial in Israel’s Haaretz this week read, “Ben & Jerry’s decision is a legitimate one. It is even a desirable move for anyone wishing to see an end to the occupation. It does not constitute anti-Semitism, no matter how much ‘Yad Vashem pathos’ is recruited in order to present it as such.”

“The more they refuse to recognize this destructive reality, the more that reality will repeatedly remind them – by boycotts such as that of Ben & Jerry’s among other ways – that millions of Palestinians have been living under Israel’s military rule for 54 years, with no state or citizenship … ”

What is true is that continued Israeli occupation and dehumanization of millions of Palestinians, for 54 years with no state or citizenship, violates the human rights of all peoples, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or ice cream preferences, with or without sprinkles, is morally and politically untenable and needs to end.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at To read more of his writing about the BDS Movement, go to

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