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Ben & Jerry's forced to end Israel boycott

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Ben & Jerry's delivery truck is seen at their factory in Be'er Tuvia - RONEN ZVULUN /REUTERS
Ben & Jerry's delivery truck is seen at their factory in Be'er Tuvia - RONEN ZVULUN /REUTERS

Unilever has blocked Ben & Jerry's from boycotting Israel by selling the ice cream brand’s operations in the country to a local manufacturer.

Consumer giant Unilever slapped down efforts by Ben & Jerry's to take a political stance in the region, saying it "rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance".

Last summer, Ben & Jerry’s had claimed selling into occupied Palestinian territory was "inconsistent with our values" and said that it would not be renewing its licence agreement with its franchise partner in Israel.

However, owner Unilever on Wednesday said it had overruled its subsidiary and sold the ice cream maker's local operations, following consultation with the Isreali government.

Avi Zinger, the owner of American Quality Products, is buying the Ben & Jerry’s brand in the country. He has been making and selling the ice cream under licence for the past 34 years.

The sale follows an internal dispute between Unilever management and Ben & Jerry's.

The US dessert maker has had an independent board since its takeover in 2000, unlike Unilever's other brands, such as Magnum and Hellmann's. That allowed Ben & Jerry's to control decision-making for the business.

The division has repeatedly taken political stances, increasingly on foreign policy. On Ben & Jerry's website, it says the board is "empowered to protect and defend Ben & Jerry's brand equity and integrity. And our product quality!"

Unilever said it still has "primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions" at the ice cream brand, allowing it to sell the Israeli division.

Jewish human rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said Unilever chief executive Alan Jope had personally informed the group of the decision to stop the boycott earlier on Wednesday morning.

SWC's chairman of the board of governors is Nelson Peltz, the billionaire activist investor who recently built a stake in Unilever and who joined its board in late May.

SWC's Rabbi Hier and its associate dean and director of social global action, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said: "We want to personally thank Nelson Peltz for his ongoing personal efforts to bring about today’s announcement.”

Mr Jope has previously publicly clashed with Ben & Jerry’s over its activism, earlier this year warning the ice cream brand to "stay out of debates" it did not understand. That comment came after it criticised US President Joe Biden’s response to the Ukraine war.

In February, Ben & Jerry’s wrote on Twitter: "We call on President Biden to de-escalate tensions and work for peace rather than prepare for war.

"Sending thousands more US troops to Europe in response to Russia’s threats against Ukraine only fans the flame of war."

Mr Zinger had been suing Unilever in Israel over the move to stop selling in the region. On Wednesday, Mr Zinger said that lawsuit had now been settled.

Ben & Jerry's will continue to be sold across Israel and in the West Bank under its Hebrew and Arabic names. Unilever said it had "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".

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