Jun 29, 2022 - World

West Bank sales of Ben & Jerry's will resume after Unilever deal

A view of the entrance of the ice-cream shop inside the Ben & Jerry's factory in Be'er Tuvia in southern Israel in July 2021. Photo: Emmanuel Dundad/AFP via Getty Images
A view of the entrance of the ice-cream shop inside the Ben & Jerry's factory in Be'er Tuvia in southern Israel in July 2021. Photo: Emmanuel Dundad/AFP via Getty Images

Unilever said Wednesday that it sold its Ben & Jerry’s business interests in Israel to the local company that had the license to sell its ice cream, ending tensions between the international food conglomerate and the Israeli government.

Why it matters: Last July, the board of Ben & Jerry’s announced it would stop selling its ice cream in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying "it is inconsistent with our values."

  • The company’s decision followed the May 2021 war in Gaza and a long pressure campaign by pro-Palestinian activists in Vermont where Ben & Jerry's headquarters is based.

Driving the news: Unilever's decision Wednesday comes after a monthslong legal and diplomatic pressure campaign by the Israeli government, Israel supporters in the U.S. and the Israeli company that had the Ben & Jerry’s franchise.

  • In a statement on Wednesday, Unilever said it agreed to a new arrangement with Avi Zinger, the owner of the Ben & Jerry’s franchise in Israel, that “will ensure the ice cream stays available to all consumers” in Israel and the West Bank.
  • Under the deal, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream can only be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names in Israel and the West Bank.
  • Unilever said that while the Ben & Jerry’s board was independent in making the decision not to sell the ice cream in the West Bank, it had reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions and therefore has the right to overrule Ben & Jerry's and enter the new arrangement.

Behind the scenes: Unilever said it conducted a review in recent months and held extensive consultations with different stakeholders including with the Israeli government.

  • Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Hayat said that a special team of the Israeli government was in touch with Unilever and encouraged the company to reach a new arrangement with the Israeli license owner.

What they're saying: “Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position," Unilever said in a statement.

Ben & Jerry's said in a statement later Wednesday that it doesn't agree with Unilever's decision.

  • "Unilever's arrangement means Ben & Jerry's in Israel will be owned and operated by AQP. Our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry's in Israel," the statement added.
  • "We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry's values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

The Israeli government welcomed Unilever’s decision.

  • “Antisemitism will not defeat us, not even when it comes to ice-cream. We will fight delegitimization and the BDS campaign in every arena, whether in the public square, in the economic sphere or in the moral realm," Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said.

Go deeper: Axios interview with Ben & Jerry's co-founders

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Ben & Jerry's statement.

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