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A Ben & Jerry's store in Yavne, Israel. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty

The Israeli government has formed a special task force to pressure Ben & Jerry's ice cream and its parent company Unilever to reverse their decision to boycott Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The Israeli government is concerned the move by Ben & Jerry's will encourage other international companies to take similar steps to differentiate between Israel and the West Bank settlements. A classified Foreign Ministry cable, seen by Axios, makes clear the government wants to send a message.

Driving the news: Last week, Ben & Jerry's announced that from January 2023 they will no longer allow their Israeli franchisee to market their ice cream in the settlements, but will continue to sell it within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

  • That decision from the company, which has taken political positions on a range of issues, came after almost a decade of pressure from pro-Palestinian activists. In the past, the Israeli government managed to convince Ben & Jerry's not to take such steps.
  • But after the recent fighting in Gaza, the pressure on the company increased. In the last two weeks, it became clear that a decision to boycott the settlements was imminent.
  • The Israeli government tried to press Unilever to stop Ben & Jerry's from making that decision, but Unilever said the company had the right to take such steps as part of its corporate responsibility and social justice policy.

Behind the scenes: On July 22, the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent a classified cable to all Israeli diplomatic missions in North America and Europe ordering them to start a pressure campaign against Ben & Jerry's and Unilever in order to convince them to negotiate.

  • Israeli diplomats were instructed to encourage Jewish organizations, pro-Israel advocacy groups and evangelical communities to organize demonstrations in front of Ben & Jerry's and Unilever offices and put pressure on investors and distributors for both companies.
  • The Foreign Ministry also asked the diplomats to push for public statements condemning the companies and to “encourage public protests in the media and directly with key executives in both companies." The diplomats were also instructed to echo those protests on social media for maximum visibility.
  • The Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Israeli Consulates around the U.S. were asked to push for the activation of anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) legislation in several states and to engage with governors, mayors, members of Congress and state officials like attorneys general.

What they're saying: “We need to make use of the 18 months that are left until the decision comes into force and try to change it. We want to create long-term pressure on Unilever and Ben & Jerry's by consumers, politicians, and in the press and social media in order to lead to a dialogue with the companies," the cable said.

  • It added that Ben & Jerry's and Unilever “caved and cooperated with the BDS movement" which it claimed was partially "motivated by antisemitism." The cable also said the companies' decision was "hypocritical, goes against the values of corporate responsibility and smells like extreme cancel culture."

Worth noting: The statement from Ben & Jerry's didn't mention BDS, but said it was "inconsistent with our values" to sell ice cream in "Occupied Palestinian Territory."

What’s next: The Israeli Foreign Ministry instructed diplomats to immediately report any new information about efforts by BDS activists to press more companies to follow Ben & Jerry's.

Go deeper

Nov 3, 2021 - World

A cigarette break with Egypt's spy chief

Abbas Kamel. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty

GLASGOW, Scotland — Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel tells Axios Egypt is trying to reach a deal to stabilize the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, allow humanitarian relief and reconstruction, and include a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.

How it happened: I had a short conversation with Kamel, who rarely speaks publicly, on the sidelines of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow while we both stepped outside the conference hall to smoke a cigarette.

U.S. wants Israel to convince Sudan's generals to end coup

Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Photo: Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty

The Biden administration has asked the Israeli government to use its close relations with Sudan’s coup leader and de facto president, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to urge the military to restore the civilian government.

Why it matters: Burhan has been central to the Israel-Sudan normalization process over the last two years. He and other Sudanese generals have been coordinating with contacts in the Israeli national security council and Mossad intelligence agency.

U.S. increases pressure on Iran ahead of new nuclear talks

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Biden administration is slowly ratcheting up its diplomatic pressure on Iran ahead of a potential resumption of the nuclear talks.

Why it matters: After months of contemplating how to respond to Iran's foot-dragging, with talks now frozen since June, the Biden administration in recent days started taking steps that some of its European allies, Israel and the Gulf states were waiting for.