When was Vermonters for Justice in Palestine formed?
See https://vtjp.org/longread/ The original name was ‘Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP)’, and the first meeting of what became VTJP was held in April 2001 at Trinity College, hosted by Sister Miriam Ward. The name change was around 2012.
VTJP is a small group of maybe a dozen dedicated volunteers and many supporters, with essentially no budget, just to support online resources, printing, banners, etc.
What is the goal of VTJP?
The VTJP Mission has remained the same from the outset:
‘Vermonters for Justice in Palestine works to support the Palestinian people in their
struggle for human rights and to end the illegal, immoral, and brutal Israeli occupation
through education, advocacy, and action. We are committed to the principles of
self-determination for the Palestinian people, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and full civil and political rights for all Palestinians in order to promote the equality and safety of both Palestinians and Israelis.
So that is really based on the BDS ‘call’.
And also: VTJP members focus their activism in Vermont, and on issues that affect Vermonters. As such we have organized events and speakers locally, intended to be informative and educational. https://vtjp.org/speakers/https://vtjp.org/artprojects/ Art projects mostly at the South End (Burlington) Art Hop.
When did VTJP begin to lobby Ben & Jerry’s to stop operations in Israel and what did the original appeal entail?
The VTJP campaign against Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel and the occupied territories started a decade ago. We heard about the factory and scoop shops in Israel, but very significantly a Vermont activist who was living then in East Jerusalem photographed B&J ice cream sold in
Shufersal stores in Settlements, and obtained the transcript of a phone call with
Ben & Jerry’s (Israel) assuring that ‘Party Carts’ could be sent to a settlement. But after initial
communication and meetings with B&J (see below), we went ‘public’ in 2013.
VTJP organized leafleting at scoop shops across the nation on FreeCone Day and several petition-writing and other campaigns. The original ‘call’ has remained unchanged: https://icecream.vtjp.org/call/:
Until Israel ends its occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands in compliance with
- End the marketing, catering and sales of Ben & Jerry’s products in Israel and Jewish-only settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
- Stop manufacturing ice cream in Israel.
- Issue a statement (a) calling on Israel to end its occupation and settlement enterprise and (b) appealing directly to other socially responsible companies to do likewise and to cease business operations in Israel and its illegal settlements.
What is the relationship of VTJP with the BDS movement more broadly and to what degree Ben & Jerry’s is responsive to the concerns of the movement?
VTJP wants to act in a way that Palestinian people and civil society request, so (https://vtjp.org/longread/) VTJP is a strong supporter of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. BDS is a non-violent Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. It was launched in 2005 against Israel and its policies of occupation, colonialism and ethnic cleansing.
The BDS Call to Israel:
1. End its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
2. Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Written communications between VTJP and Ben & Jerry’s over the years?
This is documented at https://icecream.vtjp.org/talking/
An early meeting included the Chairperson of the Board (Jeff Furman). The Board has ultimate responsibility for the ‘Social Mission’, and stated in the Acquisition agreement relating to company management, (penultimate paragraph of the agreement).
in 2014 VTJP received a letter from Rob Michalak, Ben & Jerry’s Global Director of Social Mission dated April 16, 2014 indicating that Ben & Jerry’s desired no further discussion with VTJP.
Since then we’ve continued to organize petition drives, etc., but that has in effect been one-way communication. Early on we met – they listened, but did not act. But Vermont and Burlington
are small communities, so VTJP people do occasionally encounter Ben & Jerry’s people and have conversations. For instance, on Free Cone Days one of us rode a bicycle to the headquarters in South Burlington, and handed leaflets to people entering the building.
Did Vermonters for Justice in Palestine spearhead this campaign and is there a broad coalition of entities in Vermont that support B& J’s pulling out of Israel?
Yes, the campaign was initiated by VTJP. An informal coalition has developed. Vermont VTJP has
been affiliated with the VT Peace and Justice Center, https://pjcvt.org/ and we’ve had several articles published in their newsletter.
And specific to Vermont, we found an ally in Migrant Justice as they were campaigning for Ben & Jerry’s to obtain milk from farms adopting ‘Milk with Dignity’ for immigrant farm workers in Vermont. Recently, we’ve had huge support from DecolonizeBurlington. And see this report about them in the Burlington Free Press.
Several national organizations have given advice. Notably BDSMovement.net; US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace. Recently M4BL has been supportive, apparently mostly ‘behind the scenes’ as their movement has received very visible support from Ben & Jerry’s.
Things did change dramatically in mid-2021 when pressure mounted and an Instagram
posting by Decolonize Burlington promoting the boycott resulted in Ben & Jerry’s postings being flooded with comments, not about ice cream flavors, but about the plight of Palestinians.
It seems that other groups with young people having social media communications got involved. This apparently caused Ben & Jerry’s to stop posting on ‘social media’ platforms for several weeks, until their Statement appeared on July 19th, 2021. VTJP has become identified with other human rights issues about people of color, and populations subjected to settler colonialism (that includes indigenous peoples in North, Central and South America, Africa and Australasia). In particular we’ve had excellent mutual support with the Vermont organization Migrant Justice.
Have VTJP protest continued since the Ben & Jerry’s announcement?
We’ve been very busy, especially responding to the press – the coverage has been enormous and very encouraging (mostly) by drawing attention to the issues; the situation in Palestine, the ‘unhinged’ responses from the Israeli Government; the US State Department position; and nasty personal, racist and mysogenous attacks on Board Chair Anuradha Mittal. See https://icecream.vtjp.org/#Reactions
Also, we’re discussing and seeking advice from organizations with more experience than us in
campaigns based on BDS. Priorities now will be to try to keep Ben & Jerry’s accountable to their Statement, and not back off, as notably AirBnB did in response to lawsuits and bad publicity. Also, we’re wanting to support Board Chair Anuradha Mittal against vile personal attacks.