New agreement in Israel will bring Ben and Jerry’s ice cream back to shelves in annexed East Jerusalem and occupied West Bank despite ice cream makerAccording to Unilever, the company that owns the brand.
But it’s unclear whether the product, which will only be sold in Hebrew and Arabic script, will continue to appeal to Ben & Jerry fans or have the backing of Vermont, 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 (BDS) movement. The BDS movement aims to put economic pressure on Israel due to its military occupation of the lands the Palestinians want for their 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 it has sold its business stake in Israel to a local company that will sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream under its Hebrew and Arabic name worldwide. 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 long-term support for many liberal causes — racial justice, climate action, LGBTQ rights, and campaign finance reform. But Unilever will have the final say in financial and operating decisions.
Unilever said it “took an opportunity last year to hear views on this complex and sensitive issue and believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.”
Unilever confirmed in its statement that it does not support the boycott movement. She said she is “very proud” of her business in Israel, where it employs about 2,000 people and has four factories.
Unilever sold the company to Avi Zinger, owner of Israel-based American Quality Products Ltd, who filed a lawsuit against Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s in March in US federal court for ending their business relationship, saying it violated US and Israeli law.
Zenger’s legal team said Unilever’s decision was part of a settlement. He thanked Unilever for resolving this issue and for the “strong and principled stand” it had taken against BDS. “There is no place for discrimination in the commercial sale of ice cream,” Zenger said.
There was no immediate comment from Ben & Jerry’s. A spokeswoman referred to Unilever’s announcement.
“Just a pint of ice cream”
However, reaction to the new agreement soon arrived.
Omar Shakir, director of Human Rights Watch for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said Unilever is seeking to undermine Ben & Jerry’s “initial decision” to avoid being complicit in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, which his organization says amount to apartheid. Israel strongly rejects this characterization.
“It won’t work: Ben & Jerry’s will not operate 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 praised the decision and thanked governors and other elected officials in the United States and elsewhere for supporting its campaign against BDS. She said Unilever consulted with her State Department throughout the process.
“Anti-Semitism 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 sphere, in the economic sphere, or in the moral sphere.”
BDS, an umbrella group supported by nearly all of Palestinian civil society, calls itself a nonviolent protest movement modeled on the BDS campaign against apartheid in South Africa. It does not take an official position on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and officially rejects anti-Semitism.
Israel views the boycott movement as an attack on its legitimacy, in part due to the extremist views held by some of its supporters. Israel also notes the group’s support for the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees – which would mean 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 complete boycott, and appears to be targeting the Israeli settlement enterprise. About 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and East JerusalemIt is considered part of its capital. Israel occupied both areas in the 1967 Middle East war, and the Palestinians want them to be part of their future state.
Most of the international community views the settlements as a violation of international law. The Palestinians consider them the main obstacle to peace because they absorb and divide the land on which the future Palestinian state will be established. Every Israeli government has expanded settlements, including during the height of the peace process in the 1990s.