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July 6, 2022 10:32 am

Federal Judge Denies Ben & Jerry’s Bid for Restraining Order Preventing Sale of Its Israeli Business

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

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

A federal judge in New York on Tuesday denied ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s application for a temporary restraining order against its parent company, Unilever, which the Vermont-based manufacturer is suing in an effort to prevent the sale of its business in Israel to a local licensee.

The judge also ruled that Unilever must prove by July 14 why a preliminary injunction should not be granted.

Ben & Jerry’s filed a lawsuit against Unilever on Tuesday at a federal court in New York. The ice cream company claims Unilever’s move to sell Ben & Jerry’s to an Israeli licensee — which would allow the frozen desserts to continue being sold throughout Israel – is “inconsistent” with its company values and was a decision made without the approval of the brand’s independent board.

Ben & Jerry’s announced in July 2021 that it will discontinue sales of its products in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, areas it described as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

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It said in its lawsuit this week that its brand is “synonymous with social activism,” and that as part of Unilever’s acquisition agreement with the ice cream company in 2000, it maintained the “primary responsibility for safeguarding the integrity” of the Ben & Jerry’s brand and its social views through its independent board.

“While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it,” Ben & Jerry’s said in an Instagram post last week. “We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Unilever announced on June 28 that it sold its Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel to Avi Zinger, the owner of the American Quality Products (AQP), which is the current Israel-based licensee of Ben & Jerry’s products. Unilever said at the time that it “rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance.” The company added, “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.”

As part of the sale, AQP will continue selling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream throughout all of Israel under Hebrew and Arabic names.

Unilever explained that while Ben & Jerry’s and its independent Board have the right to make decisions about its social mission, Unilever has a “primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement.”

Alyza Lewin — a lawyer representing Zinger and AQP, and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law — said in a statement on Monday: “It’s a done deal. Unilever chose the morally correct, socially just and principled path when it ensured that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream would always continue to be produced and sold in Israel and the West Bank. Avi Zinger stands arm in arm with Unilever and commends Unilever’s decision to forcefully defend its agreement with him.”

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