Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will continue to be sold in Israel and the West Bank, Unilever said Tuesday, following a deal that sold the conglomerate’s business interests in Israel to its licensee.
“The new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership” of American Quality Products Ltd., which holds the current Ben & Jerry’s license, Unilever said in an announcement.
The sale means no disruption of sales of the popular U.S.-created ice cream in Israel. The independent Ben & Jerry’s board, which retained the right to “take decisions about its social mission” after Unilever acquired the firm in 2000, had decided to not renew AQP’s license last year.
That move prompted calls for U.S. state governments to scuttle all business with Unilever. In August, Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith wrote to Jewish community leaders and said the state would review any contracts it had with the ice cream maker and with Unilever after the 2021 move was announced.
Arizona state treasurer Kimberly Yee said in September 2021 that the state would divest all Unilever holdings in protest over the move.
Now, Unilever said a review of Ben & Jerry’s situation in Israel that involved “extensive consultation over several months, including with the Israeli Government” led to the sale of the Ben & Jerry’s business there to local owners.
The company statement said the firm “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 also said it was “very proud of our business in Israel,” employing close to “2,000 people of diverse backgrounds, has four local manufacturing plants and works with a network of around 2,000 local suppliers and service providers — helping to support the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Israelis across its value chain.”
The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that two Israeli government ministers approved the move.
The newspaper quoted Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Orna Barbivai as saying the move “not only ensures that the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Israel and its diverse staff will be protected, but that customers of the company, Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, will not be subject to attacks by a delegitimization campaign against Israel.”
Israeli attorney Arsen Ostrovsky, whose International Legal Forum sued Unilever over the proposed cancellation, said in a statement the group was pleased with the outcome.
The reversal, he said, “represents the most breathtaking and unequivocal defeat for the global BDS Movement. The ILF was proud to have been one of the first organizations to initiate legal action against Unilever in the United States over Ben & Jerry’s illegal and racist boycott, on behalf of a Palestinian claimant, who made the case that such boycotts only contribute to hatred and division, while Palestinians are the ones who lose out the most. A sweet victory indeed against the dark forces of hate, bigotry and antisemitism of the global BDS Movement.”