Ben & Jerry's sues Unilever to block sale to Israeli company

7/14/2022 10:27 AM
Ben & Jerry's ice cream

Ben & Jerry's is suing its parent company Unilever to block the sale of its business interests in Israel to an Israeli company — a move that opens the door for its products to be sold in the occupied territories.  

The ice cream maker opposes the sale of its products in settlements in Israeli-occupied Palestinian land because it is “inconsistent” with the company's values.

But last week, Unilever announced it would sell Ben & Jerry's business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger's American Quality Products (AQP).

AQP will sell Ben & Jerry's products throughout the illegally occupied territories, effectively reversing the American brand's decision not to sell in the area.

The Cookie Dough and Phish Food ice cream maker filed a complaint at the US District Court of Manhattan this week.  

It said the sale threatened to undermine the brand's integrity and that it was not approved by Ben & Jerry's independent board of directors.

"Ben & Jerry’s is an American institution. An institution that is known for the principled, progressive stances it takes on various societal issues, both domestically and internationally," the company said in its court filing.

"This social integrity is as important to Ben & Jerry’s as the ice cream it makes, which it began producing in 1978."  

It added: "The company’s core values of advancing human rights and dignity, supporting social and economic justice for historically marginalised communities . . . are integral to Ben & Jerry’s identity.”

BDS movement  

Unilever revealed last Wednesday that it was selling its Ben & Jerry's business interests in Israel to AQP.

“The new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership of its current licensee,” it said.  

The move was celebrated by Israeli businesses and pro-Israel groups, who saw it as a victory against the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).

The BDS, modelled on the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, is an anti-racist and non-violent campaign that aims to pressure Israel to end its abuses against Palestinians and comply with international law.

Advocates for Palestinian rights say the move is part of a broader strategy to punish solidarity with Palestinians.

Following the sale announcement, Ben & Jerry's put out a statement saying it does "not agree with" the sale.  

"We are aware of the Unilever announcement. While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it," it said in a tweet thread.

"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.  

"We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry's values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."