West News Wire: After Unilever announced last year that it would stop marketing its products in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories because it was “inconsistent” with its values, multinational consumer goods company Unilever has sold its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream business in Israel to its local licensee for an undisclosed sum.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will be accessible to all customers in Israel and the occupied West Bank, including in Jewish settlements, under the new agreement, which was announced on Wednesday.
Ben & Jerry’s disagreed with the parent company’s choice and stated that even though they were no longer making money from the sale of their ice cream in illegally occupied areas, their position had not changed.
“We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said on Twitter.
Ben & Jerry’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, no longer manage the brand but are well known for their commitment to social justice, with recently expressed strong support for the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights and electoral campaign finance reform.
The episode has highlighted the challenges facing consumer brands that have backed progressive causes and attempted to also take a stand on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, such as San Francisco-based Airbnb, which in 2019 reversed its decision to delist Israeli settlements.
The international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to end international support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, and advocates for freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians, as well as for Israel to comply with international law.
However, Israel says such boycotts are discriminatory and anti-Semitic.
On Wednesday, Israel’s foreign ministry called the Ben & Jerry’s deal “a huge victory”.
“We will fight delegitimisation and the BDS campaign in every arena, whether in the public square, in the economic sphere or in the moral realm,” Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, said in a statement.
Last year, Israel condemned the sales boycott as “morally wrong” and said Unilever would face “severe consequences”. The consumer goods giant defended Ben & Jerry’s autonomy, but said it was “fully committed” to Israel and would find a solution by the end of this year.
The new owner is the brand’s longtime Israeli ice cream licensee Avi Zinger, owner of American Quality Products. Zinger had sued Ben & Jerry’s after its decision in the occupied West Bank, saying the company illegally severed their 34-year relationship.
“The new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership of its current licensee,” Unilever said.
The decision to sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to local licensee has led to heated reactions.
“The return of Ben & Jerry’s to Israeli settlements, which were built on Palestinian land, exposes it to international legal accountability and its name will be on the United Nations blacklist of companies operating in settlements,” the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Wasel Abu Yussef said.
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, said the deal sought to undermine the “principled decision” to stop selling the ice cream in Israeli settlements.
“What comes next may look and taste similar, but, without Ben & Jerry’s recognised social justice values, it’s just a pint of ice cream,” he said in a statement.
Sari Bashi, Human Rights Watch’s Program Director, said that the decision “helps sustain discrimination and unlawful land grabs” against Palestinians.
Unilever had said previously it did not support the BDS movement, and reiterated that stance in a statement on Wednesday.
BDS supporters argue that the movement is necessary as political leaders have failed to end what the movement describes as “Israel’s settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid practices”.