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July 27, 2021 2:33 pm

Israel Weighs Legal Options to Pressure Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever Over West Bank Boycott

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Tubs of ice-cream are seen as a labourer works at Ben & Jerry’s factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel is examining the use of legal tools in Israel and abroad to sway Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever to backtrack from its decision to stop selling ice-cream to the West Bank and areas of eastern Jerusalem.

“The boycott movement does not come to promote peace and coexistence, but rather represents an anti-Israel and in many cases antisemitic policy that has no place in the public discourse in the 21st century,” said Noam Katz, Deputy Director General of Public Diplomacy at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It is important to clarify that the boycott against Israel is a double-edged sword which harms prices more than anybody else it intends to harm.”

According to the decision announced earlier this month, Ben & Jerry’s will not renew its license agreement with its current Israeli partner, saying that it was “inconsistent” with its values to sell products in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The ice-cream maker said it would continue to sell their products in Israel under a different arrangement.

Meanwhile, senior Israeli government officials have urged US lawmakers to sanction Ben & Jerry’s in states with anti-BDS laws. On Friday, the New York state comptroller’s office warned Unilever that the sales ban could threaten state pension fund investments in the UK-based multinational.

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“The image damage to the companies, as well as the intention by major US states to apply the anti-boycott laws to Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, are aimed at convincing the heads of the companies to overturn the discriminatory decision against Israel,” Israel’s Katz added.

Headed by Katz, an inter-ministerial discussion was held at the Foreign Ministry on Ben & Jerry’s surrender to the boycott movement and Israel’s expectation from the parent company Unilever to act to cancel the “shameful and immoral decision.” Participants in the meeting, which included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Finance and the Economy, presented the legal and public state of affairs and discussed possible courses of action.

“Among other things, we examined the use of legal tools in Israel and abroad and increasing the public pressure on company leaders in order to reverse the immoral decision to surrender to a boycott,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Unilever CEO Alan Jope has said that the consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel, where it employs some 2,000 workers.

On Tuesday, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt shared a letter the group had received from Jope reiterating that stance and rejecting “any form of discrimination or intolerance.”

Greenblatt said the group was “heartened” by the letter, commenting, “We appreciate the unique business relationship between Unilever and its Ben and Jerry’s subsidiary; however, we still urge Unilever to do whatever it can to convince the Ben and Jerry’s board to change its position.”

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