This week, ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s announced plans to exit Israeli-occupied territories. According to the business – known for its Milk & Cookies, Mint Chocolate Cookie, and Americone Dream flavoured ice creams – selling into ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ (OPT) is ‘inconsistent’ with its values.
“We also hear and recognise the concerned shared by our fans and trusted partners,” noted the brand.
Ben & Jerry’s has told its licensee Ben & Jerry’s Israel, which makes its ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region, that will not renew the license agreement when it lapses at the end of 2022.
An independent decision
When Ben & Jerry’s was bought out by food giant Unilever in 2000, it retained an independent board that takes decisions about its social mission. The ice-cream brand has previously made public its support of LGBTQ+ equality, Fairtrade practices, the Black Lives Matter movement, and climate justice.
Unilever, which remains ‘fully committed’ to its presence in Israel, has described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a ‘very complex and sensitive situation’.
Earlier today, Unilever CEO Alan Jope told reiterated these sentiments to investors on an earnings call. “I think if there’s one message I want to underscore…it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”
The CEO continued: “This was a decision taken by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board…and we always recognise the importance of that agreement.”
Israel has not responded favourably to Ben & Jerry’s stance. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Jope in a phone call that the decision was a ‘glaring anti-Israel measure’, according to Bennett’s office.
The Israeli government warned Unilever the move would have ‘serious consequences, legal and otherwise’ and that it would act ‘aggressively against any boycott measure targeting civilians’.
Other public figures in Israel have also condemned Ben & Jerry’s position. Bennett’s predecessor, took to social media to make his view known, tweeting: “Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy.”
Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy https://t.co/j7VNpIWX0f— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 19, 2021
Among those that interpret Ben & Jerry’s decisions to be founded in anti-Semitism include the Israeli-American Civic Action Network. On Twitter, the group wrote: “Ben & Jerry’s just announced a boycott against Jews. Boycotts against Jews are antisemitic. Ben & Jerry’s is antisemitic…”
BDS movement backs boycott
The ice cream business’ decision has also attracted support, including from the BDS National Committee - a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel.
“The BDS movement welcomes Ben & Jerry’s decision as a decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violation of Palestinian rights,” the group noted in a statement.
“Ben and Jerry’s, a leading socially responsible international company, is finally bringing its policy on Israel’s regime of oppression against Palestinians in line with its progressive position on Black Lives Matter and other justice struggled.
“We hope Ben & Jerry’s has understood that, in harmony with its social justice commitments, there can be no business as usual with apartheid Israel.”
Moving forward, Ben & Jerry’s said it will not leave Israel completely. While its ice creams will no longer be sold in the ‘OPT’, the business will stay in Israel through a ‘different arrangement’. “We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready,” noted the business.