Popular ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's will no longer be available in Judea and Samaria. In a statement released this evening, the company said, "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 statement continues: "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." The company added, however, that "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 decision comes after a strong anti-Israel campaign on social media that has continued since May and Israel's Operation Guardian of the Walls in the Gaza Strip following rocket fire on Israel by Hamas. The company, like others, was the object of severe criticism on social networks by BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) activists. The company's official English pages on social media have been inactive since mid-May, the time of the operation, after surfers flooded it with comments on Ben & Jerry's business conduct in Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem.
Part of the background is Ben & Jerry's active role on social issues stemming from the policies of its founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Jews with something of a hippie past. Among other things, Cohen and Greenfield decided to donate 7.5% of their income to social causes and community projects.
in 2000, they sold the company to Unilever. Under the sale agreement, the company has an independent board of directors that focuses on the well-being of the brand and the quality of the product, and maintenance, and expansion, of Ben & Jerry's social mission. At the same time, an exclusive license was granted to Ben & Jerry's Israel, operating as a private company with rights on the production, marketing, sale and distribution of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the country.
The Israeli company was the first to build a Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory outside the US, and it also sells its products to Europe.
The relative autonomy of the company's American board of directors in Vermont led to continuing social activism. It organized the dumping of 400 kilograms of ice cream on the lawn of Capitol Hill in protest against renewed oil drilling in Alaska. Amid the Occupy Wall Street protest of 2011, the Ben & Jerry's board published a statement in support of the demonstrators, and in the protest over the murder of George Floyd, the company's website was dedicated to the protest.
The current step is more far reaching, as the company has not thus far engaged in negative activism. Jewish organizations in the US have already protested against the company, and there are calls for a counter-boycott of the ice cream company and of parent company Unilever.
A source close to the company said, "This is a story that has been going on for months, and so far they managed to block it, but Operation Guardian of the Walls set it off again. BDS tried to apply pressure on several manufacturers, and unfortunately Ben & Jerry's capitulated. Avi Zinger, who owns the company in Israel, set up the local factory thirty years ago with his own money, when he returned to Israel from the US with a license to produce and distribute Ben & Jerry's ice creams. The factory is located in Be'er Tuvya, and there is no chance that it will cease operating.
"Avi won't surrender so quickly, and clearly there'll be a protracted legal-contractual proceeding here over the next year and a half, and he'll continue producing ice cream and also continue to sell in the territories, and it's clear to me that it will end in a blow-up. It's also clear to me that whatever happens he will continue producing ice cream. He has all the know-how and all the machinery. It could be that in the end it will under a different brand."
A statement from Ben & Jerry's Israel said, "Ben & Jerry's Homemade Holdings Inc. decided not to renew the agreement with us in eighteen months' time because of our refusal to stop selling throughout Israel. We call on the government of Israel and on consumers not to allow a boycott of Israel. This is an unprecedented action on the part of Unilever, the owner of Ben & Jerry's Inc. Ice cream is not part of politics. We call on Israelis to continue buying the local product, which provides a livelihood to hundreds of workers in the south."
Unilever Israel dissociated itself from the move. "We are aware of the decision by Ben & Jerry's and wish to make clear: Unilever Israel has no connection to the Ben & Jerry's brand in Israel, which is managed by a franchisee and competes with Unilever in the local ice cream market. Ben & Jerry's decision was made by its independent board. Unilever Israel is very proud of its history in Israel and is completely committed to its presence in the country. The company employs about 2,000 people at its headquarters, in itslogistics network, and at our factories in Arad, Akko, Tzefat, and Haifa, and only in the last decade Unilver has invested over NIS 1 billion in its activity in Israel. The company will continued to invest in its people, its brands and its business in Israel."
Minister of the Interior Ayelet Shaked tweeted in response to Ben & Jerry's announcement "And your ice cream is not consistent with our taste. We'll get along without you."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 19, 2021
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