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Consumer good giant Unilever has sold its Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel in a move that will allow the ice cream brand to remain available to consumers throughout the country and the West Bank.
Unilever has agreed to offload the division to Avi Zinger, the owner of American Quality Products, which is the current Israel-based licensee of Ben & Jerry’s.
The deal will see the ice cream sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Ben & Jerry’s, which is known for its progressive politics, announced last July that it would no longer produce ice cream for Israeli settlements on occupied lands.
It was one of the strongest steps so far by a well-known company against Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen by the international community as illegal.
But it had faced calls to reverse the decision.
Unilever said it could not block the decision, due to a purchase agreement made in 2000 that allowed Ben & Jerry’s autonomy over its social-justice policies, but that it retained control over financial and operational decisions and “therefore has the right to enter this arrangement”.
Unilever said: “The new business arrangement follows a Unilever review of Ben & Jerry’s in Israel after the brand and its independent board announced last year its decision to discontinue sales of its ice cream in the West Bank.
“Unilever has used the opportunity of the past year to listen to perspectives on this complex and sensitive matter and believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.
“The review included extensive consultation over several months, including with the Israeli Government.”
Some 700,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem and the West Bank — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians, with wide international backing, claim both areas as parts of a future independent state.
Israel has annexed east Jerusalem and says it is part of its capital, but the annexation is not internationally recognised.
It says the West Bank is disputed territory whose fate should be resolved in peace talks. The international community overwhelmingly considers both areas occupied territory.
Unilever added: “Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance.
“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.”