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OPINION

Unilever, Ice Cream & Antisemitism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Courtesy of Ben & Jerry's via AP

Unilever, the British consumer goods company, got a new CEO on July 1, a Dutchman named Hein Schumacher. He may want to check the Twitter feed of Anuradha Mittal, the Chairwoman of Ben & Jerry’s, the American ice cream maker that Unilever acquired in 2000.

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Mittal has already caused untold controversy for Unilever, most famously by ending ice cream sales in the “occupied territories” of Israel, and more recently observing July 4 by advocating that the United States return “stolen indigenous land.”

In the week following the bloody attack on Israel, Mittal unleashed more than thirty tweets, not one of them condemning Hamas. While the nature of Israel’s response to the carnage is a legitimate topic for debate, those who decry it without denouncing the original onslaught do so in bad faith.

October 10 was a busy day that Mittal, kicked off by announcing that she is cancelling her subscription to the New York Times for “biased journalism.” Then came a flurry of retweets, one from Medical Aid for Palestinians, a charity that has in the past partnered with Hamas. MAP co-founder Dr. Swee Ang Chai in 2014 promoted a film titled “CNN, Goldman Sachs and the Zio Matrix,” produced by former KKK leader David Duke.

Another tweet was from Mohammad El-Kurd, a Palestinian journalist who claimed that the report that babies were beheaded in an Israeli kibbutz was a “lie” for which there is “no evidence.”

Previously, the Anti-Defamation League alleged that El-Kurd has engaged in “unvarnished, vicious antisemitism.” According to the League, “El-Kurd has accused Israelis of eating the organs of Palestinians and of having a particular lust for Palestinian blood. He has compared Israelis to Nazis…” 

Although he may not know it, the fifty-something Schumacher inherits a shameful corporate legacy. Prior to World War II, Unilever invested in a score of German businesses, including those central to German rearmament. As Unilever’s founding Chairman Paul Rykens, another Dutchman, put it, “In Germany, we are a German firm.”

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At the behest of the Nazis, Unilever replaced Jewish managers and board members of its German businesses and acquired firms expropriated from Jews. In the wake of Kristallnacht, Unilever gained a secret minority position in the Jewish-owned banking house A. E. Wasserman. Chairman Rykens wrote, “The fact that we are only sleeping partners will restrict not only our actual liability to this amount, but also our moral responsibility.” Unilever only abandoned the Nazis after Germany invaded Rykens’ home country of the Netherlands.

Even though Unilever is always involving itself in controversial issues beyond Britain’s borders, from climate change to transgenderism, the company has not (as of this writing) condemned antisemitism or terrorism since the Hamas attack. In the face of the recent horrors, a reckoning of sorts has come for academic administrators who have tolerated rampant antisemitism. At esteemed institutions like Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, they are struggling to explain themselves, and major donors are pledging to withhold support.

Woke tentacles cling as hard to powerful corporations like Unilever as they do to the college campus. Schumacher’s predecessor was Alan Jope, who claimed that Unilever’s brands should be defined by their social “purpose.” But what happens when social purpose is defined by the political Left, which currently requires indifference to the killing of Jews?

Where does Mittal fit in all this? She serves as Chairwoman of Ben & Jerry’s so-called “Independent Board of Directors.” As explained on the company’s website, the board is “not a governing body in the conventional sense, but a (very!) independent B.O.D. that's empowered to protect and defend Ben & Jerry's brand equity and integrity.” In other words, the ultimate authority over Ben & Jerry’s resides with Unilever. 

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Mittal founded and heads a small nonprofit called the Oakland Institute that is funded in part by the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, on whose board she also serves. For years, the group has sponsored a steady stream of anti-Israel activism. Allegations of anti-Semitism are not new, but this time, like college administrators who have tolerated too much for too long, Schumacher can’t defend the indefensible. He must remove Mittal without further delay.

Peter Flaherty is Chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center.

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