Ben & Jerry’s ice cream returns to West Bank store shelves as Unilever sells Israeli assets
A new deal in Israel will put Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back on shelves in annexed East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, despite the ice cream makeraccording to Unilever, the company that owns the brand.
But it’s unclear if the product, which would only be sold with Hebrew and Arabic lettering, would still appeal to Ben & Jerry’s fans or have the backing of the Vermont company, which has long supported liberal causes.
Israel hailed the move as a victory in its ongoing campaign against the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. BDS aims to put economic pressure on Israel for its military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 but distanced itself from the ice cream maker’s decision last year to halt sales in the territories, said Wednesday that it had sold its stake in the Israel business to a local company called Ben & Jerry’s Jerry’s ice cream would sell under its Hebrew and Arabic name throughout Israel and the West Bank.
When Ben & Jerry’s was sold, the companies agreed to allow the ice cream maker’s independent board to pursue its social mission, including its long-standing support for many liberal causes – racial justice, climate change, LGBTQ rights and campaign finance reform. But Unilever would have the final say on financial and operational decisions.
Unilever said it “seized the opportunity of the past year to hear perspectives on this complex and sensitive matter and believes this is the best result for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.”
In its statement, Unilever reiterated that it does not support the BDS movement. It is “very proud” of its business in Israel, where it employs around 2,000 people and has four production facilities.
Unilever sold the business to Avi Zinger, the owner of Israel-based American Quality Products Ltd, who sued Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s in US federal court in March for ending their business relationship for violating US and Israeli law .
Zinger’s legal team said Unilever’s decision was part of a settlement. He thanked Unilever for resolving the matter and for the “strong and principled stance” towards BDS. “There is no place for discrimination in the commercial sale of ice cream,” Zinger said.
There was no immediate comment from Ben & Jerry’s. A spokeswoman referred to Unilever’s announcement.
“Just a Pint of Ice Cream”
However, the reaction to the new agreement came quickly.
Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch director for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said Unilever is trying to undermine Ben & Jerry’s “fundamental decision” to avoid complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, which his organization says amounts to apartheid. Israel firmly rejects this characterization.
“It won’t succeed: Ben & Jerry’s will not do business in illegal settlements. What comes next may look and taste similar, but without Ben & Jerry’s recognized values of social justice, it’s just a pint of ice cream.”
Israel welcomed the decision and thanked governors and other elected officials in the United States and elsewhere for supporting its campaign against BDS. Unilever consulted its Foreign Office throughout the process.
“Anti-Semitism will not defeat us, not even on ice cream,” said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “We will fight delegitimization and the BDS campaign in all areas, be it in the public square, in the economic or in the moral sphere.”
BDS, an umbrella organization supported by virtually all Palestinian civil society, calls itself a nonviolent protest movement modeled on the boycott campaign against apartheid in South Africa. It takes no official position on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and officially rejects anti-Semitism.
Israel views BDS as an attack on its very legitimacy, in part because of the extreme views of some of its supporters. Israel also notes the group’s support for a right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees — which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state — and the refusal of BDS leaders to support a two-state solution to the conflict.
Ben & Jerry’s decision was not a full boycott and appeared to target Israel’s settlement companies. About 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalemand holds part of its capital. Israel captured both territories in the 1967 Middle East War, and the Palestinians want them to be part of their future state.
Most of the international community sees the settlements as a violation of international law. The Palestinians see them as the main obstacle to peace because they are absorbing and dividing up the land on which a future Palestinian state would be built. Every Israeli government has expanded its settlements, including during the height of the peace process in the 1990s.