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90 members of Knesset urge Unilever to reverse ‘shameful’ Ben & Jerry’s decision

Dana Olmert, daughter of former PM, signs letter in support of ice cream company’s refusal to sell over the Green Line, and calls Israeli rule of West Bank ‘apartheid’

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

Workers at the Ben and Jerry's factory near Kiryat Malachi, on July 21, 2021. (Flash90)
Workers at the Ben and Jerry's factory near Kiryat Malachi, on July 21, 2021. (Flash90)

Ninety members of the Knesset from across the political spectrum, led by Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari, sent a letter on Wednesday to the CEO of Unilever protesting the recent decision by its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to cease selling its products in West Bank settlements.

“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.

Members of nearly every Knesset faction, with the exception of the Joint List and Ra’am, signed their names to the letter. One member of the dovish Meretz party, Yair Golan, signed the letter, but then requested that his name be removed.

Golan later tweeted: “I signed MK Merav Ben-Ari’s letter on the topic of Ben & Jerry’s, but after I signed I understood that the letter does not represent my position.” Golan said he objected to the description of West Bank settlements as “towns and cities in Israel,” and asked to have his signature removed from the letter.

The letter 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.”

Last week, Ben & Jerry’s — which has been owned by Unilever since 2000 — announced it was “inconsistent with our values” to continue selling its ice cream “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The licensing agreement Ben & Jerry’s has with its Israeli counterpart will continue unchanged through the end of 2022. While the statement from Ben & Jerry’s indicated it intends to work on a new arrangement to continue to sell ice cream solely within the Green Line, it is unclear how such a proposal would take shape.

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.”

View of the Ben & Jerry’s factory shop in Yavne on July 20, 2021. (Flash90)

He also highlighted that Unilever employs nearly 2,000 people in Israel and has invested $295 million in the Israeli market over the past decade. “I hope that this letter goes some way to reassuring you that we recognize the concerns you have raised and that Unilever remains fully committed to our colleagues and customers in Israel, and Jewish communities around the world,” Jope added.

Dana Olmert (מתניה / Wikipedia)

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.

Olmert told 103FM Radio on Wednesday that there is “apartheid” in the West Bank, and “people want to talk about antisemitism and ice cream, but not about the reason [Ben & Jerry’s] decided to do this. The reason is the occupation.”

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