In an interview released Sunday, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s said the company’s recent decision to stop selling its products in settlements was not a boycott of Israel.
“I think [the outrage] is largely based on misinformation. I think Ben and Jerry’s and [parent company] Unilever are largely being characterized as boycotting Israel, which is not the case at all,” Jerry Greenfield told “Axios on HBO” reporter Alexi McCammond in an interview.
“We were always in favor of the two-state solution, [but] the policy of the Israeli government has been to endorse the settlements in the Occupied Territories that keep making it harder and harder to actually have a two-state solution,” said Cohen.
“I don’t view it as withholding money. We just don’t want our ice cream sold in the Occupied Territories,” he said.
Greenfield and Cohen sold the company decades ago and maintain no control over its operations, though they remain involved with the company.
The ice cream company announced in July that it will stop selling its products in what it called “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” presumably the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The move will come as Ben & Jerry’s license deal with its local franchise ends at the end of 2022, and will not be renewed.
Unilever has stated that it hopes to continue doing business in Israel proper and that it opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
However, is not clear if Ben & Jerry’s will continue to be available in Israel at all when the ban takes effect at the end of next year, as Israeli law forbids discrimination against Israeli citizens in the territories.
When asked why not stop sales completely to Israel if they disagree with governmental policy, Cohen immediately pushed back against the idea.
“Well I disagree with the US government, but we couldn’t stop selling in the US. I think it’s fine to be involved with a country or to be a citizen of a country and protest some of the country’s actions,” Cohen said.
“We hugely support Israel’s right to exist but we are against a particular policy,” he said.
The two were asked about the accusations of antisemitism they faced in the wake of the announcement.
“No, I wasn’t surprised and yet when it happened it’s still painful,” said Greenfield. “I understand people being upset. It’s a very emotional issue for a lot of people and it’s a very painful issue for a lot of people.”
Cohen struck a more bullish tone: “[It was] totally fine because it’s absurd. What, I’m anti-Jewish? I’m a Jew. My family is Jewish. My friends are Jewish.”
The businessmen were also asked why they would continue to sell ice cream in the US state of Georgia, which has restrictions on voting, and Texas with its recent anti-abortion law.
“Why are you still selling there?” they were asked about Georgia and Texas. Neither said anything for long seconds, then Cohen said: “I don’t know. It’s a good question. I don’t know what that would accomplish.” He shrugged and repeated, “I don’t know. I think you ask a really good question and I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit.”
A key difference, they later said, was that the settlements were viewed as illegal under international law.
“Ben & Jerry’s publicly supported Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter. But over the years, the company continues to sell more ice cream and thrive,” Greenfield said.
Last month Arizona became the first state to pull the trigger on divesting from Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s in response to its settlement boycott.
Texas has officially added Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever to a list of companies that boycott Israel, a further step on the path to the state divesting some $100 million from the companies. The decision was made possible due to the Texas boycott law’s broad definition of Israel that includes the “territory’s that it controls” — i.e. the West Bank.
New Jersey has announced that it was on the path to follow suit, while New York, Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Rhode Island have launched formal proceedings.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.