‘Selling Without Discrimination’: Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s Israel Reach Agreement to End West Bank Boycott
Unilever on Wednesday announced the divestment of its Ben & Jerry’s interests in Israel to its local licensee, allowing the ice cream maker’s products to be sold throughout Israel a year after its controversial move to end sales in eastern Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
The decision follows a months-long legal dispute between Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, and Avi Zinger, owner of American Quality Products Ltd. and the current licensee of the ice cream maker in Israel.
Last July, the independent Ben & Jerry’s’ board resolved not to renew a licensing deal with its Israeli partner at the end of 2022, saying it was “inconsistent” with its values to sell products in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
Zinger thanked Unilever for resolving the issue and for the “strong and principled stand it has taken against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
“There is no place for discrimination in the commercial sale of ice cream,” stated Zinger. “It has always been important to me to ensure that all customers — no matter their identity — are free to enjoy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.”
According to the deal, Zinger will be Israel’s exclusive producer and distributor of Ben & Jerry’s and sell the ice cream under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank.
Unilever called the settlement the “best outcome” for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel, following a review of the “sensitive matter” and extensive consultation, including with the Israeli government.
“Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society,” Unilever said in a statement. “We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position.”
In a joint statement, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Orna Barbivai welcomed Wednesday’s announcement, declaring, “Antisemitism will not defeat us, not even when it comes to ice cream.”
“The Ben & Jerry’s factory in Israel is a microcosm of the diversity of Israeli society,” Lapid remarked. “Today’s victory is a victory for all those who know that the struggle against BDS is, first and foremost, a struggle for partnership and dialogue, and against discrimination and hate,” he emphasized.
The boycott decision last year set off an intense backlash in the US, where states including New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, and Texas moved to sell off investments in Unilever to comply with statutes barring business with entities boycotting Israel.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that “today’s is yet another demonstration of the ineffectiveness of trying to boycott and ostracize Israel — and proves that healing can happen when all sides work together.”
According to the lawsuit, filed by Zinger in the US District Court of New Jersey in March, where Unilever US is headquartered, Ben & Jerry’s demanded AQP to boycott certain parts of Israel while continuing to sell in other parts of the country, which is illegal under Israeli and US laws. When AQP refused to comply with Ben & Jerry’s demand, the ice cream maker refused to renew its license.
“Terminating AQP’s license solely because the company refused to break the law constitutes wrongful termination and breach of contract under US law, which governs Unilever US and its Ben & Jerry’s subsidiary,” it was argued.
Unilever has four local manufacturing plants in Israel, employing about 2,000 people in Israel and supplying everyday household products across the country.