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PM Bennett condemns company's 'moral mistake'

Ben & Jerry’s says it will end sales in ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’

Ice cream giant whips up controversy with change in policy on settlements, says products will remain available in Israel; FM Lapid slams ‘shameful capitulation to antisemitism’

Ice cream moves along the production line at Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream, in Waterbury, Vermont. on March 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)
Ice cream moves along the production line at Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream, in Waterbury, Vermont. on March 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)

The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream giant announced Monday that it will no longer distribute its products in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” apparently referring to West Bank settlements, though the flavors will remain available in Israel.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners,” the company said in a statement.

“We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year,” it said.

However, the company said it would continue to supply its ice cream inside Israel, albeit through a different distributor.

“Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready,” the statement added.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, and today, more than 400,000 Israeli settlers live there. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal and an impediment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Israel sees the territory as disputed and says the fate of the settlements must be resolved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

It was not immediately clear if the boycott also applied to East Jerusalem. Israel annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, and considers the whole city the undivided capital of the Jewish state. The Palestinians claim the eastern part as the capital of a future state, and the international community sees Israeli neighborhoods there as settlements, a designation Israel disputes.

Ben & Jerry’s current Israel distributor condemned the ice cream company’s decision to drop its licensing agreement with them.

“The decision is entirely unacceptable. Ben & Jerry’s International decided not to renew their agreement with us in a year and a half, after we refused their demand to stop distribution throughout Israel,” it said. “We urge the Israeli government and consumers — don’t let them boycott Israel.”

“Keep ice cream out of politics,” it added.

The distributor, which has produced special flavors for Jewish holidays, such as haroset for Passover and Israeli election-themed flavors, urged Israelis to buy locally produced ice cream instead.

(photo credit: courtesy, Ben and Jerry's Israel)
Overcrowding on the production line. (courtesy, Ben and Jerry’s Israel)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a statement saying that the decision was a mistake.

“Ben & Jerry’s decided to brand itself as anti-Israel ice cream,” said Bennett. “This is a moral mistake and I believe it will turn out to be a business mistake as well.”

“The boycott against Israel… reflects that they have totally lost their way. The boycott doesn’t work and won’t work and we will fight it with all our might,” the prime minister added.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also condemned Ben & Jerry’s’ decision, calling it “a disgraceful capitulation to antisemitism, to BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel], to all that is evil in the anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish discourse.”

The foreign minister said he would ask the over 30 US states with anti-BDS laws to implement them against Ben & Jerry’s in retaliation. The laws require states to divest from companies that boycott Israel.

“We won’t be silent,” he insisted.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted: “Your ice cream brand doesn’t match our tastes. We’ll be fine without you.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu also weighed in. “Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy,” he wrote on Twitter.

The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, blasted Ben & Jerry’s for ending its sales in areas claimed by the Palestinians for their future state.

“The residents of Samaria [West Bank] and this land will stand strong long after Ben & Jerry’s ice cream melts and disappears from the world,” Dagan said in a statement.

“We won’t give in to this antisemitism, which has permeated American Jewry,” he said, likely referring to the progressive Jewish founders of the iconic ice cream brand.

Meanwhile, a left-wing Meretz lawmaker blamed Israel’s settlement expansion for Ben & Jerry’s decision.

“Ben & Jerry’s is not boycotting Israel, but rather the settlements. You may not like it, but this is the price of settlement expansion, land grabs, and the blurring of the Green Line,” tweeted MK Michal Rozin.

MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint List wrote on Twitter that Ben and Jerry’s decision was “appropriate and moral.” She added that the “occupied territories are not part of Israel,” and that the move is an important step to help pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation.

Ben & Jerrys ‘Pecan Resist’ ice-cream launched October 2018. (Ben & Jerrys)

Ben & Jerry’s statement did not explicitly identify the concerns that led to the decision, but last month, a group called Vermonters for Justice in Palestine called on the company to “end complicity in Israel’s occupation and abuses of Palestinian human rights.”

“How much longer will Ben & Jerry’s permit its Israeli-manufactured ice cream to be sold in Jewish-only settlements while Palestinian land is being confiscated, Palestinian homes are being destroyed, and Palestinian families in neighborhoods like Sheik Jarrah are facing eviction to make way for Jewish settlers?” the organization’s Ian Stokes said in a June 10 news release.

Founded in Vermont in 1978, but currently owned by consumer goods conglomerate Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s has not shied away from social causes. While many businesses tread lightly in politics for fear of alienating customers, the ice cream maker has taken the opposite approach, often espousing progressive causes.

Ben & Jerry’s took a stand against what it called the Trump administration’s regressive policies by rebranding one of its flavors Pecan Resist in 2018, ahead of midterm elections.

The company said Pecan Resist celebrated activists who were resisting oppression, harmful environmental practices and injustice. As part of the campaign, Ben & Jerry’s said it was giving $25,000 each to four activist entities.

The Associate Press contributed to this report. 

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