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Ben & Jerry’s West Bank ice cream ban becomes a hot topic in Israel

Ice cream has become a hot topic in Israel.

Israeli officials have slammed Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, accusing it of branding itself as anti-Israeli.

“The boycott of Israel … reflects a complete loss of way,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote Monday on Twitter.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the decision a “shameful surrender to antisemitism.” A TikTok of Economics Minister Orna Barbivay throwing a carton of Ben & Jerry’s into the trash was shared online.

A refrigerator bearing the Ben & Jerry’s logo at a food store in the Jewish settlement of Efrat on Tuesday. The decision to stop doing business in the occupied Palestinian territory was embraced by the BDS movement, which said it was a “decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation.”Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

More than just words and symbolic gestures, Israel is also already flexing its diplomatic muscles against the move. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, tweeted that he’d written to 35 governors of U.S. states that have legislation against the boycott of Israel, calling on them to impose sanctions against Ben & Jerry’s.

“We view this decision very severely as it is the de-facto adoption of anti-Semitic practices and advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the de-humanization of the Jewish people,” he wrote in the letter, according to a photo he posted on Twitter.

Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Israel takes a tough stand against people or organizations seen to support the pro-Palestinian BDS movement, which supports boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli institutions and businesses.

The movement says it aims to economically and politically pressure Israel to comply with international law and works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

But Israeli officials say the movement is antisemitic and seeks to delegitimize or even destroy the country. Under Israeli law, supporters of the movement can be denied entry to Israel.

Ben & Jerry’s did not say in its statement that it supported BDS, but its decision was widely seen by Israel watchers and some Jewish groups as a win for the movement.

It is not the first time a company has tried to stop doing business in the occupied territories. In 2018, Airbnb announced that it would stop advertising properties in Israeli settlements. Several months later, after coming under harsh criticism from Israel and a federal lawsuit by Israeli Americans who owned property in the settlements, the company reversed its decision.

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It remains unclear whether Israeli pressure will yield the same result with Ben & Jerry’s.

Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian politician, described Erdan’s decision to write to 35 U.S. governors as “Israeli arrogance.”

“Chutzpah + hasbara + entitlement + impunity,” she tweeted.

That Israeli lawmakers framed Ben & Jerry’s decision as a boycott of Israel itself will be welcomed by Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

These territories were captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel treats the two areas separately, considering east Jerusalem as part of its capital and the West Bank as disputed territory whose fate should be resolved in negotiations. Most of the international community, however, considers both areas to be occupied territory and settlements there to be illegal under international law.

Nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the two areas — about 440,000 in the occupied West Bank and 220,000 in east Jerusalem, according to Peace Now, an Israeli organization that advocates for an independent Palestinian state.

Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop doing business in the occupied Palestinian territory was embraced by the BDS movement, which described it as a “decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights.”

Not all Israeli lawmakers condemned the decision.

Aida Touma-Sliman, an Israeli lawmaker with the Joint List of Arab parties, wrote on Twitter that Ben & Jerry’s decision was “just and moral” and that the occupied Palestinian territories are not part of Israel.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, tweeted a picture of himself digging into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s along with the caption: “The diet was going well until now.”

Rachel Elbaum and Lina Dandees contributed.

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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