Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s corporate parent, announced that the ice cream brand has been sold to an Israeli licensee, reversing a ban on selling the product in annexed East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank that spurred controversy in Israel and abroad.
Ben & Jerry’s back in West Bank settlements, East Jerusalem
As part of the new agreement, the ice cream will remain the same but will feature labeling only in Hebrew and Arabic, rather than English, Unilever said in a statement Wednesday.
In Israel, the move has been hailed as a win over the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions), which seeks to punish Israel economically for its treatment of Palestinians.
“Ben & Jerry’s factory in Israel is a microcosm of the diversity of Israeli society,” tweeted Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who called the agreement a “victory … for partnership and dialogue, and against discrimination and hate.”
“Ice cream will still be sold in all of Israel, including Judea and Samaria, without restriction or discrimination,” said Avi Zinger, the Israeli licensee who has been distributing the ice cream in the region for years, using the biblical name for the West Bank — a land that Palestinians envision as part of a future state.
Ben & Jerry’s employs some 2,000 people at its four Israeli factories, where it has for decades been churning out kosher versions of favorites like Chunky Monkey and special Passover flavors like charoset and matzah-chocolate.
In July 2021, after pressure from pro-Palestinian campaigners, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would not renew its license for sales in the disputed territories at the end of 2022, citing its support for “human rights, and economic and social justice.”
Israel’s control of the West Bank, which it captured from Jordan in 1967, and East Jerusalem, which it later annexed, has been condemned by much of the international community as occupied territory.
But the Ben & Jerry’s announcement last year has caused business woes for Unilever, which acquired the ice cream maker in 2000 for $326 million but promised that the company would retain authority on decisions regarding its social mission. At least six U.S. states divested their pension funds from Unilever. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Unilever chief executive Alan Jope in a call that cutting off the West Bank and East Jerusalem would have “severe consequences.”
In its statement, Unilever said it had consulted with various parties, including the Israeli government, on the “complex and sensitive matter.”
“We look forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to Israel’s economy and society for many decades to come, and hope that Israelis and Palestinians can reach a peaceful resolution of their conflict,” it said.
Source: The Washington Post