Just Desserts: Ben and Jerry Join Pro-Iran Deal “Donor Strike”

by Marsha B. Cohen

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the co-founders of the ice cream company that bears their name, have signed on to a “donor strike” organized by MoveOn.org. Targeting liberal and centrist Democrats Congress who benefit from their largesse, Cohen and Greenfield joined the growing list of potential contributors pitting their power against that of conservative and neoconservative groups in an all-out effort to secure the necessary votes to pass the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal with Iran.

“Lobbyists and billionaires plan to spend over $40 million to stop the diplomatic deal with Iran—the one the Obama Administration negotiated to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” the ice cream moguls wrote in a letter to MoveOn supporters and posted online. “That’s dangerous, because if too many Democrats listen to the flood of hawkish, misinformation-ridden TV ads—and if they vote with Republicans—they could override the president’s agreement in just about a month.”

The online memo includes a link to a petition headlined “No Money for War Hawks” and a pledge that even small donors will withhold contributions from any Democrat who joins Republicans in sabotaging the agreement reached last month with Iran. MoveOn, which claims 8 million members, launched the donor strike two weeks ago when New York Sen. Chuck Schumer announced his opposition to the deal:

Our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate, and it certainly doesn’t need him as Democratic leader. The vast majority of Democratic voters — the people who elected President Obama in part because of our shared belief that war must always be a last resort — will not stand for it. Frankly, we thought Senator Schumer and other Democrats in Washington had learned their lesson after being misled into supporting a misguided war of choice in Iraq.

No real Democratic leader does this. If this is what counts as “leadership” among Democrats in the Senate, Senate Democrats should be prepared to find a new leader or few followers. This is not what the volunteers, activists, small-dollar donors, and voters who actually win elections spend their time and money to support.

In response to Senator Schumer’s decision to side with partisan war hawks, MoveOn.org’s 8 million members are immediately launching a Democratic Party donor strike. We will organize grassroots progressives across the country to withhold campaign contributions from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and from any Democratic candidate who succeeds in undermining the president’s diplomacy with Iran. Our goal will be to secure commitments to withhold $10 million in contributions within 72 hours after this campaign launches.

By noon Thursday, MoveOn announced that more than 100,000 people nationwide had pledged to support the donor strike, withholding over $30 million from any Democrats who opposed the diplomatic deal.

Despite any alternative plan or proposal, Republicans are monolithically opposed to the JCPOA, while Democrats are split. Pro-Israel organizations such as AIPAC are targeting undeclared Democrats, employing high pressure tactics, spending heavily on television advertisements, and attempting to drive grassroots activism against the Iran agreement.

Cohen and Greenfield founded Ben and Jerry’s in 1976. Cohen sold the Vermont-based ice cream company to Unilever, a British-Dutch multinational corporation, for $326 million in 2000, They have used the profits from the sale of their company to encourage grassroots support for a wide variety of progressive causes and initiatives. Their letter frames the Iran deal as the alternative to yet another war that would divert billions of dollars from the US economy as well as costing the lives of soldiers and civilians.

“War means American women and men in uniform will die. It means tens of thousands of civilians will perish. And it means billions—maybe trillions—of taxpayer dollars (which should go to things like green energy development, health care, or schools) will be drained from the federal budget,” they wrote. “You know who would love that? Big military contractors and their armies of lobbyists. But the rest of us would be in deep, deep trouble.”

Ben and Jerry—supporters of Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders  ever since he first ran for mayor of Burlington in 1981—have just officially announced their support for his candidacy as Democrat presidential nominee. Sanders excoriated congressional Republicans for “itching for war” with Iran back in March, when 47 senators sent an open letter authored by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton to Iranian leaders. Sanders declared his support of the JCPOA on August 7, telling CBS’s Face the Nation the following Sunday:

 I’m not going to tell you that this is a perfect agreement …”But the United States has to negotiate with other countries. We have to negotiate with Iran. And the alternative of not reaching an agreement, you know what it is? It’s war. Do we really want another war, a war with Iran? An asymmetrical warfare that will take place all over this world, threaten American troops?”

On Thursday morning, Sen. Claire McCaskill became the 26th Senate Democrat to announce she’ll vote in favor of the agreement reached with Iran. Support of the JCPOA by 41 Democratic senators could keep the Senate from passing a resolution to scuttle the deal next month, while Republicans would need the votes of 13 Democrats in order to sustain an override of a presidential veto of such a resolution. Thus far only two Senate Democrats—Chuck Schumer (NY) and Robert Menendez (NJ)—have openly declared that they will vote with Republicans to kill the nuclear deal reached with Iran. In the House, just 12 of the House’s 188 Democrats have joined Republicans in opposing the agreement. Forty-four Democrats would have to vote against the deal in order for the House to defeat President Obama’s veto.

Photo: Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.



  1. JCPOA is the outcome of misinformed and mislead war in Iraq. No congressional democrat should even think of opposing it once the understand what it is all about. It must be given a chance to work before anything drastic and fear driven. The world agrees JCPOA is the right way to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran. Or, for that matter, any of the 190 member nations to the NPT, exclusive of the seven powers that admit they have nuclear weapons.

  2. Mr Schumer has abdicated his pledge of allegiance to the US in favor of Israel. This blatant violation of his oath of office must be met with a strenuous rebuke by not allowing him to succeed to the Senate leadership position when it is vacated in 2016. He has failed the most basic of tests of leadership, jeopardizing the United States position of power on the world stage. His colleague in Connecticut, Mr Blumenthal, who has a history likewise of supporting Israel at all cost should be denied any support, financial or otherwise, as US interests are subordinate to Israels in any of his votes in the Senate. Another Joe Lieberman clone undermining his party and countrys’ interests for his own benefit. They both need to be primaried in their next elections.

  3. This is a positive move on Ben & Jerry’s part, but I can’t but help thinking it is also a way to undo the PR damage they have suffered by doing business in and with the illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories- and, I wonder, if it is also a way to get a head start for selling ice cream in Tehran.

    Doing business in the illegal settlements will not ‘break the ice’ or bring about rapprochement between the settlers and those whose land they are illegally occupying, but, instead, will enable, and allow B&J to profit from, the illegal conduct of the settlers.

    Ceasing to the settlers would be the next good move Ben & Jerry’s could take.

  4. Ben, Jerry, Sanders….sorry, but Zionist endorsement of the deal with Iran adds no apparent legitimacy or credibility to the deal. Our “progressive zionists” claim to support it to salvage the US’s imbalanced support for the apartheid state. If the deal fails, the Jewish state attacks, necessarily triggering Iranian hostilities v. the US, utter collapse of US civil society, and blame (properly) cast on the Israel and its US vanguard. In other words, Ben et al don’t want to kill the goose who lays the golden eggs for Zion.

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