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Unilever has sold off its Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel in an attempt to extricate itself from a row over sales of the ice-cream in settlements in the West Bank.
Ben & Jerry’s independent board announced last summer that the brand would no longer sell its products in the occupied Palestinian territories, saying to do so was “inconsistent with our values”.
The decision was one of the highest-profile rebukes by a well-known brand of Israel’s settlements, which are regarded as illegal under international law.
It faced heavy criticism from within Israel. The foreign minister, Yair Lapid, called it “a shameful capitulation to antisemitism” and said he would take up the issue with the more than 30 states that have legislation against the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli institutions and businesses.
The row prompted Unilever to launch a review of the Israeli business, leading to Wednesday’s announcement of its sale to Avi Zinger, the owner of Ben & Jerry’s current licensee for the region, American Quality Products (AQP).
Under the terms of the deal, ice-cream with the same flavours and similar artwork will continue to be sold across Israel but using only the Hebrew and Arabic version of the brand names – not the English brand, Ben & Jerry’s. A Unilever spokesperson said the company would not receive any licensing income from the sale of the products.
Ben and Jerry’s board had planned not to renew the licence with AQP when it expired at the end of this year.
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. The review included extensive consultation over several months, including with the Israeli government.
“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.”
The West Bank and East Jerusalem were captured by Israel in the 1967 six-day war. Now 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the two territories – roughly 500,000 in the occupied West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
Israel treats the two areas separately, considering occupied East Jerusalem as part of its capital and the West Bank as disputed territory whose fate should be resolved in negotiations.
However, the international community considers both areas to be occupied territory. The Palestinians seek the West Bank as part of a future independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Ben & Jerry’s has been approached for comment.