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Ben & Jerry’s board decries sales of brand in West Bank, East Jerusalem

US ice cream maker, which lost legal bid to prevent parent firm Unilever from defying its boycott, says sales by Israeli subsidiary ‘should not be confused’ with its products

Illustrative: An Israeli shops at the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory in the Be'er Tuvia Industrial area on July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)
Illustrative: An Israeli shops at the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory in the Be'er Tuvia Industrial area on July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)

Ben & Jerry’s board of directors on Tuesday rebuked the sale of products bearing any of the ice cream maker’s insignia in West Bank settlements, the latest salvo in the Vermont-based company’s feud with its corporate parent over ice cream sales in the territory.

Last year, Ben & Jerry’s board said it was going to stop selling its ice cream in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying the sales in the territories sought by the Palestinians for a potential future state are “inconsistent with our values.” Many in the international community view the settlements as illegal and as obstacles to peace, though peace talks have long been moribund.

Consumer goods giant Unilever, which bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, announced earlier this year that it was selling its business interest in Israel to a local company that would sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream under its Hebrew and Arabic name throughout Israel and the West Bank. Ben & Jerry’s sued its parent company Unilever in New York over the move earlier this year.

Ben & Jerry’s independent board said in a statement Tuesday that Unilever’s sale was made without the board’s consent and any products sold by Blue & White Ice Cream Ltd. “should not be confused with products produced and distributed by Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc.”

“Ben & Jerry’s position is clear: the sale of products bearing any Ben & Jerry’s insignia in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is against our values,” the statement said.

Unilever said on Wednesday that the “new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership of its former licensee.”

“The independent members of the Board of Ben & Jerry’s applied to the courts for an injunction to stop the sale. This application was refused. The ownership of the brand is different, but the Ben & Jerry’s product is no different to what’s been enjoyed in Israel for many years,” Unilever said.

Pedestrians walk on Church Street, past the Ben & Jerry’s shop, in Burlington, Vermont, March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The 2000 acquisition agreement allowed the Ben & Jerry’s board to make decisions about the company’s social mission but it stipulated Unilever would have the final word on financial and operational decisions.

In August, a US federal judge rejected Ben & Jerry’s request to block a plan by Unilever to allow its products to be sold in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The judge said Ben & Jerry’s failed to show that Unilever’s decision would hurt Ben and Jerry’s social mission or confuse its customers.

The decision to boycott settlements sparked uproar in Israel and among some US Jewish groups. Critics of the attempted West Bank boycott note that Ben & Jerry’s allows its products to be sold in states with atrocious human rights records, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and China. The company has not taken action regarding other disputed territories including Tibet, Crimea, Western Sahara, and Kashmir.

Supporters of the Boycott Israel movement say that in urging businesses, artists, and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to oppose unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement masks its motives to delegitimize and destroy the Jewish state.

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