Ben & Jerry’s Succumb to Pressure

American ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s has announced that it will stop selling its products in the area popularly known as the ‘West Bank’, saying on its website:

‘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.`

`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.`

Screenshot of Ben & Jerry`s websiteScreenshot of Ben & Jerry`s website (21st July 2021)

The company is now owned by Unilever, and it seems there is a dispute between the two organisations over a third paragraph of the statement, which is said to have been added by Unilever but is not backed by Ben & Jerry’s independent board.

The company has a substantial history of involvement in political issues and social campaigns, including climate change and racial justice. This latest move into Middle East politics is said to result from years of pressure by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists to withdraw its products from Israel.

On Tuesday Israel’s Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, spoke to Unilever’s CEO, Alan Jope, explaining that he viewed such an “anti-Israel step” with the “utmost gravity.” A statement issued by his office said that Bennett:

“Emphasized that from the perspective of the State of Israel, this is an action
that has severe consequences, including legal ones, and it will take strong action
against any boycott directed against its citizens.”

Israel`s Ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, has sent a letter to the governors of 35 American states pointing out that this boycott violates anti-BDS laws and asking them to take action against the company.

However, Nadav Tamir, executive director of a pro-Israel lobby group, says that Israel’s response only encourages more BDS activity:

“I am a little disappointed in the response by Foreign Minister Lapid.
The legislation against BDS is seized upon by liberals in the US as the
silencing of voices, damaging freedom of speech, and as anti-democratic.”