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Muslim rights group CAIR urges US officials not to punish Ben & Jerry’s for stopping sales in Israeli settlements

The logo of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has denounced as “unacceptable and unconstitutional” Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith’s latest threat to punish Ben & Jerry's, after the ice cream company announced last month that it would no longer sell its products in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter addressed to Wobensmith on Monday, the Maryland office of CAIR urged the US official to immediately withdraw his “baseless and unconstitutional” threat against the American company, stressing that anti-boycott laws violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, Palestine’s Wafa news agency reported.

“We write to express deep concern with your office’s reported plan to violate the First Amendment of the Constitution by investigating and punishing an American corporation for its decision to stop doing business in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” the prominent American Muslim organization said.

“CAIR is deeply concerned and alarmed by your recent announcement that Maryland is reviewing state contracts with Ben & Jerry’s over its decision to no longer sell its products in Palestinian Territories recognized under international law as illegally occupied by the Israeli government.”

The latest development came after Wobensmith said Maryland will be reviewing its contracts to determine if Ben & Jerry’s has any existing contracts with the State of Maryland, and promised to respond accordingly.

CAIR further noted that the US government should not and cannot punish American companies for engaging in free speech, including the constitutionally protected right to boycott.

“The Constitution of the United States guarantees all Americans the right to free speech. That includes an American corporation’s right to avoid participation in the Israeli ... human rights abuses against the Palestinian people, which the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and other human rights groups have described as apartheid.”

It also urged Wobensmith to “immediately stop dedicating valuable state resources” to the investigation of Ben & Jerry's and to “respect the free speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”

Ben & Jerry's announced on July 19 its plans to stop selling ice cream in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories because it is "inconsistent" with the company's "values." 

The move provoked a wave of fury from Israel and pro-Israel groups, with Israeli president Isaac Herzog denouncing it as a "new form of terrorism" and extremist prime minister Naftali Bennett promising Israel would use "all tools at its disposal" to fight the decision by Ben & Jerry's.

The Tel Aviv regime also threatened the company with “severe consequences.”

Israel’s ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan sent a letter to the governors of 35 US states slamming Ben and Jerry’s “anti-Semitic” action, urging the US officials to take punitive measures against the ice cream company.

A classified Israeli foreign ministry document also claimed the decision to discontinue sales in the occupied Palestinian territories was motivated by the international anti-Israel movement of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).

The BDS movement has hailed the move but said it hoped Ben & Jerry's would also “end all operations in apartheid Israel.”

The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations pushing for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”

Thousands of volunteers worldwide have since joined the BDS movement, which calls for people and groups across the world to cut economic, cultural and academic ties to Tel Aviv, to help promote the Palestinian cause.

Certain US states have passed anti-BDS laws which are widely viewed as unconstitutional attempts to force pro-Israel political opinions on American citizens and entities.

Federal courts in Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona and Georgia have already struck down key anti-BDS provisions that they say violate First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and political opinion.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.

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