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Head of Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors Anuradha Mittal Accused of Using Company to Fund Her Progressive Think Tank

Head of Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors Anuradha Mittal Accused of Using Company to Fund Her Progressive Think Tank

  • The Indian American, who spearheaded the company’s boycott of ice cream sales in West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, is now being accused of using the company’s nonprofit to fund a progressive think tank she co-founded.

Anuradha Mittal, the Indian American head of the board of directors of Ben & Jerry’s, is accused of “doling out tens of thousands in cash,” from “the ice cream company’s foundation to fund her own pro-Palestinian non-profit,” The New York Post reported. The report cited an Aug. 27 watchdog complaint to the IRS, which came on the heels of the company’s boycott in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, a decision spearheaded by the Meerut-born Mittal. The Post describes her as “a fierce critic of Israel’s policies in the region.”

An internationally renowned expert on development, human rights, and agriculture issues, Mittal, 54, is the founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute. She has been the chair of the Vermont-based company’s board since 2008. She is also a vice president of the company’s non-profit foundation — Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. — and also serves on the board of the Environmental Defender Law Center.

The Post reported that per the IRS filing, the company’s charitable foundation “doled out more than $100,000 to the Oakland Institute, a progressive think tank that studies land reform around the world.” The complaint is prepared by the Virginia-based National Legal and Policy Center, a right-leaning non-profit group that monitors and reports on the ethics of public officials, supporters of liberal causes, and labor unions in the U.S. “It is our contention that this a possible violation of self-dealing as Mittal is considered a disqualified person under IRS rules,” reads a copy of the complaint, per the Post. 

Mittal has long championed land rights in developing countries through the Oakland Institute, which she founded in 2004. She was recruited by Jeff Furman, who served on the Ben & Jerry’s board for nearly 40 years, according to her profile on Ben & Jerry’s website. Furman is now the president of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. “I was contacted by Jeff Furman who expressed an interest to have me join the board. Following that, I got to speak to other independent directors and was intrigued enough to take up the offer to join this incredible board,” she writes in her profile.

As the chair of the board of directors, Mittal provides leadership on social missions, brand integrity, and the company’s impact in 35 countries. She also ensures that Ben & Jerry’s maintains, protects, and grows its social mission and product quality… “to be really the ‘coolest’ company that ‘determines’ how to be in this world and set standards for other companies,” she says in her profile. 

Since the news broke in July, Mittal as well as other board members and Ben & Jerry’s founders, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, have been accused of antisemitism and subjected to vile hate. “I am proud of @benandjerrys for taking a stance to end the sale of its ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Mittal tweeted, using the same term for the West Bank that the announcement used. “This action is not anti-Semitic. I am not anti-Semitic. The vile hate that has been thrown at me does [not] intimidate me. Pls work for peace – not hatred!”

The company also issued a statement of support to Mittal and others. “Ben & Jerry’s condemns the hateful and violent threats that have been directed at our company, our business partners, our Board, and particularly our Board Chair. We stand together—Ben & Jerry’s and our Board—in denouncing hate, intimidation, and threats of violence in any form.”

Cohen and Greenfield no longer have operational control of Ben & Jerry’s, which they sold to the London-based conglomerate Unilever in 2000, the Post reported. However, they were instrumental in the decision to boycott sales to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, “one of the most important the company has made in its 43-year history,” the Post reported. The boycott decision was made by the ice cream company’s board, which retains autonomy over its brand and business strategy. 

Sunaina Maira, Professor of Asian American Studies at UC Davis told American Kahani that she wholeheartedly applauds Ben & Jerry’s “principled decision to stand in solidarity with Palestinians whose land has been stolen by settlers, with the backing of the U.S.” Although “the ice cream company is still doing business in Israel and so supporting the apartheid state, but refusing complicity with the illegal Jewish settlements is a first, if small, step,” she said. Noting that “we are all funding the illegal and brutal occupation in Palestine with our tax dollars,” which “has to stop,” Maira said she “respects any South Asian Americans who are willing to take this courageous step given the aggressive backlash and defamation that is thrown at anyone who dares to criticize the Israeli state’s human rights violations.”

Mittal’s post came days after a report by NBC News that her board was unhappy with the text of the statement put out by Unilever announcing the boycott. On July 28, Unilever CEO Alan Hope wrote a letter to several Jewish organizations, including the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any forms of discrimination or intolerance,” Jope wrote. “Anti-Semitism has no place in any society,” he continued, adding, that Ben & Jerry’s would “stay in Israel through a different arrangement.”

The boycott, which began July 19, was criticized by politicians, both in the U.S. and Israel. They called Mittal, Greenfield and Cohen — both Jewish — as anti-Semitic. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called it “a glaring anti-Israel measure,” while Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called for a ban on all Ben & Jerry’s sales in his state. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) took to Twitter to call out both Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s. “Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever are the ones that should be frozen out due to this boycott,” he wrote. “This isn’t about ice cream. This is about bowing to the liberal woke mob & anti-Israel, antisemitic hate. Pursuant to a 2016 Executive Order, NY must cease doing business with these companies!”

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On July 27, Mittal tweeted a statement of support from liberal Jewish groups and quoted a passage from the Unilever statement emphasizing “a clear distinction between the State of Israel & the Palestinian territories it militarily occupies.”

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that on Aug. 16, both Mittal and Cohen defended the company’s decision at a webinar hosted by Americans for Peace Now. “I’m really glad the company has taken on the difficult issue of how Israel and Palestine will coexist,” he said. “We’re using our voice and power to take a stand in favor of basic human rights. We did it and we’re proud of it.”

Mittal, who as per the Haaretz report, “was speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the company whose board she chairs,” condemned the “many rumors, lies and myths” that emerged following boycott. She confirmed that Ben & Jerry’s will no longer sell its products in the occupied Palestinian territories after its license agreement with an Israeli licensee expires at the end of next year, the report said. 

Mittal said at the webinar that “the decision was made after years of direct engagement, including numerous trips to the region by both management and the board, where they visited both Israel and the West Bank, and met with a wide range of stakeholders. We saw the impact of this occupation and its disastrous impact for both Israelis and the Palestinians,” Mittal said. “We realized that our products are moving on roads where Palestinians cannot drive and movement is severely restricted.”

Mittal has been serving as Oakland Institute’s executive director since 2008. Under her leadership, “the institute has unveiled land investment deals in the developing world which reveal a disturbing pattern of a lack of transparency, fairness, and accountability,” her profile says. She is the author of numerous books and articles and is the recipient of several awards and recognitions, including being named the Most Valuable Thinker in 2008 by The Nation magazine.

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