ISRAEL – Ben & Jerry’s, a fully owned subsidiary of Unilever, has decided to stop selling ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
Ben & Jerry’s is popular in Israel, its ice cream coming in special flavours to mark Jewish festivals or national events.
It is also sold in Israeli settlements – something that has seen activists in the US put pressure on the company, known for its progressive views.
Bowing to pressure, Ben & Jerry’s said in a statement that it had reached the decision to withdraw from OPT as its continued stay was inconsistent with its values.
“We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners,” Ben & Jerry’s added.
As part of the decision to end its presence in OPT, Ben & Jerry’s said that it had decided to discontinue its license agreement with its partner 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 statement continues.
Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, the brand has confirmed that it will stay in Israel through a different arrangement that will be communicated in a later statement.
The decision to withdraw from the OPT has, however, irked Israeli authorities who have termed the move as an “anti-Israel” step that amounts to a boycott of Israel.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Ben & Jerry’s move a “disgraceful capitulation” to anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for a complete boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
He said he would ask the 35 US states with anti-BDS laws to enforce them against the company.
Israel’s prime minister Naftali Bennett was also not pleased with the decision by Ben & Jerry’s and has warned Unilever of “severe consequences”.
“Bennett made it clear that he views with utmost gravity the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to boycott Israel and adds that this is a subsidiary of Unilever, which has taken a clearly anti-Israel step,” a statement from Bennett’s office read.
“Bennett emphasized that from the perspective of the State of Israel, this is an action that has severe consequences, including legal, and it will take strong action against any boycott directed against its citizens.”
In response to Bennet’s statement, Unilever said; “As a global company, Unilever’s brands are available in more than 190 countries, and in all of them, our priority is to serve consumers with essential products that contribute to their health, well-being, and enjoyment.”
In addition, Unilever said the decision was taken by Ben & Jerry’s independent board, and that it remained “fully committed” to maintaining a presence in Israel.
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