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Ben & Jerry’s seeks injunction against its Israeli franchisee

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

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

Ben & Jerry’s is seeking an injunction in a New York court against its parent company, amid ongoing legal fallout over the ice cream maker’s attempted boycott of West Bank settlements last year.

The ice cream maker wants to prevent its parent company Unilever from transferring intellectual property to Ben & Jerry’s Israel, which Unilever granted independence in a settlement earlier this year.

Ben & Jerry’s argues that Ben & Jerry’s Israel could usurp the company’s image by taking a new flavor and changing its branding. For example, Ben & Jerry’s could make a pro-Palestinian flavor, and the Israeli branch could take the same flavor, and brand it as pro-settlement, the lawyers argue.

Ben & Jerry’s considers the branding surrounding its social mission and activism as key to its business success.

As evidence, the plaintiff’s lawyers point to the Ben & Jerry’s Israel website, which displays company branding in English, and an interview Israeli franchise owner Avi Zinger gave to Haaretz, in which he said he “can do what he wants” with the company.

Lawyers representing Conopco, the main US branch of Unilever, say Ben & Jerry’s does not have the authority to make such claims because the intellectual property is owned by Unilever, and Unilever’s agreement with Ben & Jerry’s Israel is already closed.

The Ben & Jerry’s board, which is pressing the case, only has limited power related to its social mission, and does not have the authority to force business decisions, the lawyers argue.

They also say there is no imminent threat to Ben & Jerry’s branding, calling the suspicions “highly speculative and remote,” and that the agreement with Ben & Jerry’s Israel only allows the use of Hebrew and Arabic branding anyway.

The judge has not yet ruled on the injunction. The hearing takes place in the federal Southern District Court of New York.

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