Edited by: Fern Sidman
Edited by: Fern Sidman
A new agreement in Israel will put Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back on shelves in East Jerusalem as well as Judea and Samaria despite the ice cream maker’s protest of Israeli policies, according to Unilever, the company that owns the brand, as was reported by the AP.
But it’s unclear if the product, which would only be sold with Hebrew and Arabic lettering, would still appeal to Ben & Jerry’s fans or have the support of the Vermont company, which has long backed liberal and anti-Israel causes.
Israel hailed the move as a victory in its ongoing campaign against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, as was reported by the AP. BDS aims to isolate Israel from the international community of nations until the Jewish state agrees to relinquish what the BDS advocates and others called the “occupied West Bank” for use as an independent Palestinian state.
Israel National News reported that Unilever has sold its Ben & Jerry’s business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger, the owner of American Quality Products Ltd (AQP), the current Israel-based licensee. The new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and Judea and Samaria under the full ownership of its current licensee.
Under the terms of Unilever’s acquisition agreement of Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, Ben & Jerry’s and its independent Board were granted rights to take decisions about its social mission, but Unilever reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement, as was reported by INN.
The report also indicated that the new business arrangement follows a Unilever review of Ben & Jerry’s in Israel after the brand and its independent Board announced last year its decision to discontinue sales of its ice cream in Judea and Samaria as well as East Jerusalem.
“Unilever 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”, the company explained. “The review included extensive consultation over several months, including with the Israeli Government”.
INN reported that the company also added that: “Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position. Unilever is very proud of our business in Israel which supplies everyday household products to people across the country. Today, Unilever Israel employs around 2,000 people of diverse backgrounds, has four local manufacturing plants, and works with a network of around 2,000 local suppliers and service providers – helping to support the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Israelis across its value chain”.
The report also indicated that Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke with Avi Zinger and with Unilever CEO, Alan Jope over the last several days.
Lapid responded to the decision: “Antisemitism will not defeat us, not even when it comes to ice-cream. 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.”
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,” as was reported by the AP.
There was no immediate comment from Ben & Jerry’s. A spokeswoman pointed to the Unilever announcement, as was reported by the AP.
But reaction to the new agreement arrived quickly.
The AP reported that Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said Unilever seeks 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 hailed the decision and thanked governors and other elected officials in the United States and elsewhere for supporting its campaign against BDS, as was reported by the AP. It said Unilever consulted its Foreign Ministry throughout the process.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and CEO of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center was informed of Unilever’s decision personally in a phone call Wednesday morning from Unilever CEO Alan Jope. Shortly after the call between Rabbi Hier and Mr. Jope, Unilever officially announced it reached a new agreement with its current licensee in Israel to sell ice cream under both its Hebrew and Arabic names in Israel and throughout Judea and Samaria.
“We commend Unilever for finally doing the right thing and putting an end to the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, and anti-peace boycott by extremists on Ben and Jerry’s Board,” Rabbi Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, SWC’s associate dean and director of Social Global Action, said in a joint statement.
“We want to personally thank Nelson Peltz, SWC Chairman of the Board of Governors, for his ongoing personal efforts to bring about today’s announcement.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center took a leading role denouncing Ben and Jerry’s unjustified boycott and the pro-BDS propaganda that the ice cream brand foisted on its own workers. The SWC created its own national ad campaign since the announcement.
“This is a stinging rebuke to the BDS movement by one of the world’s leading corporations,” Rabbis Hier and Cooper concluded.
They added that: “We were deluged by thousands of our members infuriated that an iconic ice cream company had suddenly become the tipping point for the global anti-Semitic BDS movement. Unilever’s about face also sends a signal to other major corporate entities that they should shun BDS, which has never helped a single Palestinian, but has only one goal in mind: Demonize and weaken the democratic State of Israel and actively work for its demise.”
Also weighing in on this issue was the Rabbinical Alliance of America; an organization representing 950 American rabbis.
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, praised Unilever “for creatively finding a solution to economic warfare that unjustly seeks to delegitimize Israel and ignores all other countries in the world. For too long, BDS has unfairly targeted Israel and failed to take into consideration the facts, truth, and reality that Israel is not a country that discriminates against Arabs.
“On the contrary, Israel treats all people under its jurisdiction with equity, fairness, and full equality. By ending the BDS policies of Ben and Jerry’s, Unilever has demonstrated that the company is committed to true peace in the Middle East and that it will not tolerate the lies, deceit and dishonesty of the BDS movement. It takes courage and conviction to stand up and do the right thing.
“The Rabbinical Alliance of America commends Unilever for making the proper moral decision to reverse the dangerous course initiated by Ben and Jerry’s in its economic warfare against Israel. When Arab countries are increasingly making peace with Israel, that is not the time to try to isolate and destabilize the only democracy in the Middle East.”
In a statement issued to the media on Wednesday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in the name of Dianne Lob, Chair, William Daroff, CEO and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair concerning the Ben & Jerry’s matter:
Dianne Lob, Chair, William Daroff, CEO, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued the following statement:
“We applaud Unilever for selling ‘Ben & Jerry’s Israel’ to Avi Zinger, current licensee and CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Israel. Ben & Jerry’s Israel operated the first factory outside the United States as a lessee over 30 years ago. This sale comes 11 months after Ben & Jerry’s, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever, announced it was not renewing its franchise and licensing agreement with Zinger, over his refusal to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank.
“We are encouraged by Unilever CEO Alan Jope’s letter to the Conference this morning, where he stated: ‘I would also like to make it exceptionally clear that Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the BDS movement and have no intention of changing that position.’
“Now Israelis and Palestinians will continue to be able to eat Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, in addition to the many Unilever products sold in the region.
“This is a victory against discrimination and for dialogue and inclusion. It shows that allowing the BDS Movement to guide policy is not in the financial interest of corporations. We hope those considering boycotting Israel will follow the lead of Airbnb — and now Unilever — and reverse course.”
The Agudath Israel of America; the premiere organization representing Torah Jewry in the United States said in a statement on Wednesday that they applaud Unilever’s announcement that it has sold its Ben & Jerry’s business interests to its Israeli licensee to end the ice cream company’s “anti-Semitic BDS practices there.”
“Last summer, as part of its social mission, Ben & Jerry’s decided to refuse sale of its products in parts of Israel, including East Jerusalem. At that time, Agudath Israel and other groups called on Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s to reverse the boycott.
“Ben & Jerry’s controversial move led to significant legal and financial woes for it and its parent company, including lost business interests in many states which divested their pension funds of Unilever. Agudath Israel reiterates its commendation of those states and localities which responded to this boycott by cutting their financial relationships with Unilever based on their anti-BDS laws.
“Agudath Israel’s position has always been that the BDS movement is a manifestation of animus against Jews as a people. We are on longstanding record as advocating for anti-BDS laws across the United States, and have defended their constitutionality in courts of law. Most recently, Agudath Israel filed a brief defending the constitutionality of Arkansas’ anti-BDS law. Last week, the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that position.”
BDS, an umbrella group supported by virtually all of Palestinian civil society, presents itself as a non-violent protest movement modeled on the boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa. The AP reported that it does not adopt an official position on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved, and it officially rejects antisemitism.
Many BDS critics, however, point to innumerable cases in which clear cut anti-Semitism played a role in BDS campaigns against Israel, according to a source close to an organization that monitors the rising tide of visceral Jew-hatred that is spreading like wildfire across the world.
Israel views BDS as an assault on its very legitimacy, in part because of extreme views held by some of its supporters. The AP reported that 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. Some 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the liberated lands of Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed and considers part of its capital. The AP reported that Israel captured both territories in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Palestinians want them to be part of their future state.
On a number of occasions, Israel sought to extend an olive branch to the Palestinians and negotiate a settlement with them that would include their own autonomous state, however, Palestinian leadership has repeatedly rejected Israel’s offers of territorial concessions. The Palestinians, under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, and Hamas have consistently used acts of extreme violence and hard core terrorism against Israel, resulting in the brutal murders of thousands of innocent Israelis and others over the last several decades.