new agreement 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 maker’s protest of Israeli policies, according to Unilever, the company that owns the brand.
The Vermont company, which has long backed liberal causes, said it does not agree with the decision, and it’s unclear if the product—which would only be sold with Hebrew and Arabic labeling—would have the same appeal to customers.
Israel saw the action as victory in the ongoing battle against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. BDS seeks to put economic pressure on Israel for its militarily occupation of Palestinian lands that they want to become a 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 business interest in Israel to a local company that would sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream under its Hebrew and Arabic name throughout Israel and the West Bank.
When Ben & Jerry’s was sold, the companies agreed that the ice cream maker’s independent board would be free to pursue its social mission, including longstanding support for liberal causes, including racial justice, climate action, LGBTQ rights and campaign finance reform.
Unilever, however, would be the ultimate judge of financial and operational decision-making.
Unilever said it has “used the opportunity of the past year to listen to perspectives on this complex and sensitive matter and believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.”
Unilever stated in its statement that it doesn’t support the BDS movement. It said it was “very proud” of its business in Israel, where it employs around 2,000 people and has four manufacturing plants.
Unilever sold the business to Avi Zinger, the owner of Israel-based American Quality Products Ltd, who had sued Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s in March in a U.S. federal court over the termination of their business relationship, saying it violated U.S. and Israeli law.
Zinger’s legal team said the decision by Unilever was part of a settlement. He thanked Unilever for resolving the matter and for the “strong and principled stand” it has taken against BDS. “There is no place for discrimination in the commercial sale of ice cream,” Zinger said.
Ben & Jerry’s said that its parent company had taken the decision.
“We do not agree with it,” the ice cream maker said on its Twitter account, adding that it would no longer profit from sales of its products in Israel.
“We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” it added.
Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said Unilever sought to undermine Ben & Jerry’s “principled decision” to avoid complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, which his organization says amount to apartheid, an allegation Israel adamantly rejects.
“It won’t succeed: Ben & Jerry’s won’t be doing business in illegal settlements. What comes next may look and taste similar, but, without Ben & Jerry’s recognized social justice values, it’s just a pint of ice cream.”
Israel thanked the US governors for their support in its fight against BDS and hailed this decision. Unilever was consulted by its Foreign Ministry at all stages of the process.
“Antisemitism will not defeat us, not even when it comes to ice-cream,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said. “We will fight delegitimization and the BDS campaign in every arena, whether in the public square, in the economic sphere or in the moral realm.”
BDS, which is an umbrella group that has support from virtually every Palestinian civil society organization, portrays itself as a nonviolent protest movement modelled on the South Africa boycott campaign. The group does not take a position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue and officially denies antisemitism.
Israel considers BDS an attack on its legitimacy partly because some of its supporters hold extreme views. Israel also points to the group’s support for a right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees — which would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state — and BDS leaders’ refusal to endorse a two-state solution to the conflict.
Ben & Jerry’s decision was not a full boycott, and appeared to be aimed at Israel’s settlement enterprise. There are 700,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that Israel annexed. Israel considers these areas its capital. Both territories were captured by Israel in 1967’s Mideast War. The Palestinians desire them to become part of their new state.
International law is viewed as being violated by most settlements. They are seen by the Palestinians as the greatest obstacle to peace, since they absorb the land upon which the future Palestinian state will be founded. Every Israeli government expanded settlements at some point, even during the peak of the peace process that took place in the 1990s.
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