6 MKs walk back support for letter urging Unilever to undo Ben & Jerry’s boycott

Lawmakers indicate they did not see final wording; Labor MK says she was led to believe letter was aimed at saving the jobs of those employed at the ice cream factory in Israel

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Trucks are parked at the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory in the Be'er Tuvia Industrial area, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Trucks are parked at the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory in the Be'er Tuvia Industrial area, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Six members of Knesset whose names appeared on a letter to Unilever on Wednesday criticizing Ben & Jerry’s walked back their support for the letter hours after it was publicized.

The letter was spearheaded by Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari in response to the announcement last week by Ben & Jerry’s that it was “inconsistent with our values” to continue selling its ice cream “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

“This decision to boycott towns and cities in Israel as well as the company’s attempt to force this boycott practice immediately on the Israeli manufacturer is an immoral and regrettable decision that harms all residents of Judea and Samaria, as well as hundreds of Israeli workers, Jews and Arabs alike,” stated the letter addressed to Unilever CEO Alan Jope, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names, and signed by 90 members of Knesset.

But Meretz MK Yair Golan and Labor MKs Naama Lazimi, Efrat Rayten, Gilad Kariv, Ram Shefa and Emilie Moatti — whose names all appeared on the letter as published — said they did not support its wording, and implied that the final version was not what they originally agreed to.

“Labor and Meretz have a clear policy, the core of which is a separation from the Palestinians and a two-state solution,” tweeted Moatti. “The final version of the letter (which was not presented to me) does not represent my diplomatic position.”

“I understood that the letter does not represent my position,” Golan tweeted only after he signed the letter. The Meretz MK said he objected to the description of West Bank settlements as “towns and cities in Israel,” and asked to have his signature removed.

Two patrons enter the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop in Burlington, Vermont, on, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Lazimi implied that she was originally asked by Ben-Ari to sign a letter which called to save the jobs of the 160 people who work at Ben & Jerry’s Israel factory in Be’er Tuviya.

In the company’s statement last week, it said that its licensing agreement with the factory would expire at the end of 2022.

Labor MK Na’ama Lazimi (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“We must find a solution for the 160 employees of the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Be’er Tuviya,” tweeted Lazimi. “But of course we remain a steady voice against expanding settlements and in favor of peace and a two-state solution.” In a response to a reply on Twitter, Lazimi wrote that Ben-Ari originally presented the letter as “defending against closing the factory. However, I should have looked into it further and I take responsibility.”

The letter to Unilever called the decision by the ice cream company “shameful,” and concluded: “We urge you to rethink this decision and to amend this injustice (sic) act.”

On Tuesday, Unilever reiterated its opposition to the BDS movement, and noted that the ice cream company contractually has the freedom to make decisions on its “social mission.” In a letter to the Anti-Defamation League and other US Jewish groups, Jope said Unilever “rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any forms 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.”

Meanwhile, Dana Olmert, the daughter of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, stated in a radio interview on Wednesday that she supports the decision by Ben & Jerry’s. Olmert was one of more than 90 Israelis who signed on to a recent letter to the ice cream company thanking it for “your commitment to Palestinian human rights.”

In addition to Olmert, signatories on the letter — which also appeared as a full-page ad in Haaretz on Tuesday — included former Meretz MKs Zehava Gal-On, Hussniya Jabara and Roman Bronfman, and former Labor MKs Tzaly Reshef and Avraham Burg.

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