Ben & Jerry’s founders slam Unilever’s sale to Israeli licensee

The founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream blasted parent company Unilever for selling the Vermont-based firm’s operations in Israel to a local licensee — effectively circumventing a boycott of Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank.

“We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Ben & Jerry’s tweeted on Wednesday.

The official Twitter account of the ice cream maker founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield posted a short tweet thread on Wednesday — hours after Unilever announced its agreement to sell Ben & Jerry’s to Avi Zinger of American Quality Products.

AQP is the Israeli company that owned the licensing agreement to exclusively sell Ben & Jerry’s in Israel. It paid an undisclosed sum of money to Unilever, effectively ending a dispute that included a federal lawsuit.

Zinger announced on Wednesday that he will resume sales of the Ben & Jerry’s brand in both Hebrew and Arabic throughout Israel proper as well as the West Bank territories Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Unilever effectively circumvented Ben & Jerry’s decision to not sell its ice cream in the West Bank.
AFP via Getty Images

“We are aware of the Unilever announcement,” Ben & Jerry’s tweeted on Wednesday.

“While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it.”

Ben & Jerry’s continued: “Unilever’s arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s in Israel will be owned and operated by AQP. Our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.”

The Unilever announcement brings to an end the saga that began last year when Ben & Jerry’s said that it would no longer offer its products to consumers in Israeli settlements built on occupied land.

Unilever, the Dutch-British conglomerate whose properties include big-name brands such as Hellmann’s, Dove, Lipton, and Breyers, said at the time that it had no legal right to force Ben & Jerry’s to reverse course.

When Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s more than 20 years ago in a deal valued at $326 million, the Vermont-based ice cream maker insisted that its board would have autonomy on matters related to social and political issues.

Avi Zinger, whose company owned the exclusive rights to sell Ben & Jerry's in Israel, bought the ice cream brand's local operations.
Avi Zinger, whose company owned the exclusive rights to sell Ben & Jerry’s in Israel, bought the ice cream brand’s local operations.
Eric Sultan

But Unilever maintained the power to sell parts of the business as it deemed fit.

The boycott by Ben & Jerry’s created a public relations headache for Unilever as pro-Israel politicians in the US announced economic retaliatory measures.

The states of New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Texas have divested a combined $1 billion in pension fund investments from Unilever, concluding Ben & Jerry’s action violated their anti-boycott laws.

The Israeli government hailed the decision by Unilever to sell the brand to Zinger as a “victory over anti-Semites” on Wednesday.

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