On July 19, the Board of Directors of Ben & Jerry’s issued a statement informing the world that it would no longer allow its “peace & love” ice cream to be sold and catered in illegal, Jewish-only settlements in occupied Palestine. To continue to do so, it asserted, would be “inconsistent” with the company’s social mission. It further stated it would not be renewing the license with Ben & Jerry’s franchise in Israel after it expires in 2022. On the same day, the parent company, Unilever, stated that they will continue to do business with the state of Israel. Netanyahu has told all Israeli’s to boycott Ben and Jerry’s.
The issue is far from resolved due to in-fighting between Unilever and Ben and Jerry’s, but what is very clear is the that through determination and perseverance for more than a decade, a small group of people in Vermont who are members of Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP) once again proved Margaret Mead right: Never under estimate the power of a small group of dedicated people to change the world.
So who is VTJP? Although many of the core group of VTJP have little or no interest in organized religion apart than partners in their cause to bring justice to Palestinians, the first meeting of VTJP was organized by Sister Miriam Ward of the Sisters of Mercy in Burlington in 2001. Simply stated their mission is to free the Palestinian people from the zionists.
I have been involved with VTJP for more than a decade and have been on their steering committee for five years. We meet once a month for two hours to discuss actions and stay current with events in Palestine. Apart from participating in numerous demonstrations and showing of films, my main role in the organization has been to connect VTJP to the Episcopal Diocese in Vermont. Three core members from VTJP (two Jews and a Palestinian) were allowed to attend and speak at the Diocesan Convention in 2017 and were instrumental in passing a resolution on BDS and a resolution on the Leahy Law.
The campaign to show the hypocrisy of Ben and Jerry’s and demand that they stop making and selling ice cream in Israel has been one of the main subjects of meetings and actions for at least ten years. I was not on the sub-committee that met regularly on this issue. In fact, I felt that they spent far too much time on Ben and Jerry’s and despite all their efforts, it seemed like they were not moving forward on the issue. But the core BDS group insisted and they carried on year after year.
So one could say that other than sideline support, my role has been minimal on this issue. Or in the grand scheme of how the universe works, through my resistance, perhaps I did play a minor role. Stay with me on this.
Another group in Vermont that meets at the Rock Point facility on Diocesan property is the Rock Point Wisdom School (RPWS), a school that is associated with the Episcopal priest and mystic, Cynthia Bourgeault’s dynamic wisdom movement. The RPWS was created in 2016 following the election of Donald Trump. We welcome everyone and every denomination and our mission is also simple: to wake up.
One of the core teachings of the school is “The Law of Three”, a Gurdjieffian term that states that all manifestations and creations in the universe require three forces: active, passive and neutral. The law of three isn’t a quack idea up for discussion, it’s just the way it is and has been proven in science and in the world of people and events. No act of creation can occur without an active (positive), resistant (negative) and reconciling force (neutral).
In the case of VTJP and Ben and Jerry’s, there was a core group of activists who would not give up (active force). There were also others like myself that thought that were kicking the can down the road and that the withdrawal of Ben and Jerry’s in Israel was a pipe dream. However, there was no reconciling force, no third force until – until some courageous lady filmed the slow execution of a black man by a cop on a street in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When the protests began last year, VTJP jumped on board and established a solid relationship with Black Lives Matter. As more and more people from BLM saw that the plight of the Palestinians was not different than the plight of all oppressed people in the world, many of the protesters in Vermont wanted to join forces with VTJP.
During the last massacre in Gaza, more than 300 protesters stood in front of Ben and Jerry’s famous store in Burlington on Church St. and chanted “Shame Shame Shame…” for about five minutes. It was a game changing moment. The rest is history. The story is far from over but judging by the media coverage and the angry backlash and threats by the zionist community to Ben and Jerry’s and VTJP, a small group of dedicated people in Vermont refused to give up and scored a major victory toward their mission of freeing the Palestinian people.