The decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its ice-cream products in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has been met with fierce criticism from the Israeli political establishment, including a warning from the prime minister, Naftali Bennett, that the decision will have “serious consequences” for Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever.
The announcement from the ice-cream maker, which has also taken political stances on the climate crisis and social justice issues such as Black Lives Matter, is one of the highest-profile rebukes of Israeli settlement building to date by a well-known brand.
About 700,000 Israelis live in settlements – built on land captured by Israel during the 1967 war – which are regarded by most of the international community as illegal and a significant stumbling block towards lasting peace with the Palestinians.
Bennett’s office issued a statement on Tuesday in which it said the prime minister had spoken to Unilever’s chief executive, Alan Jope, about what he called a “clearly anti-Israel step”, adding that the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise, and that [Israel] will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens”.
Israel’s foreign ministry also condemned the decision as “a surrender to ongoing and aggressive pressure from extreme anti-Israel groups” and said the company was cooperating with “economic terrorism”.
In a statement on its website, Ben & Jerry’s said it had recognised “the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners” and concluded that sales in the occupied Palestinian territories were “inconsistent with our values”, informing its longstanding licensee that the licence agreement would not be renewed when it expires at the end of next year. The company plans to keep selling its products in Israel, but through a different arrangement.
The British conglomerate Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, on the condition it granted the Vermont-based ice-cream maker more autonomy than its other subsidiaries in order to preserve the company’s “culture and social mission”.
A political source told Haaretz news organisation there were fears that other international companies might follow Ben & Jerry’s lead under pressure from the BDS movement – a Palestinian-led initiative advocating boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli institutions and businesses, which many Israelis denounce as antisemitic.
BDS applauded Ben & Jerry’s decision as “a decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights”, but called on the company to do more.
“We hope that Ben & Jerry’s has understood that, in harmony with its social justice commitments, there can be no business as usual with apartheid Israel,” it said.
Several other international businesses and investors have pulled out of Israeli settlements or instigated secondary boycotts of companies involved in settlement-building in recent years. The highest-profile example was Airbnb, which in 2018 announced it would remove listings in West Bank settlements but eventually reneged on the decision.
The EU has also applied consistent pressure, ruling in 2019 that member states must identify products made in Israeli settlements on their labels.