Ben & Jerry’s parent company violated Israeli law by allowing the ice cream maker to refuse to do business in the disputed West Bank and East Jerusalem territories, its Israel-based franchisee claims.
Avi Zinger, the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Israel, wrote a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett earlier this week asking him to bring Unilever to heel by sanctioning the B&J owner over the Vermont ice cream maker’s decision to not sell ice cream in Jewish settlements located in the Palestinian territories.
Zinger claimed that Israeli authorities failed to enforce the 2011 Anti-Boycott Law, which opens the door to civil lawsuits against any entity that engages in or advocates boycotts of Israeli institutions, including the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
The CEO cited efforts by US governors to punish Unilever, while the Israeli government has yet to take action. The Post has sought comment from Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s.
“Why is the Israeli government conceding to the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement without a fight? Is the state sending the right message to the world?” Zinger wrote to Bennett.
“How can it be that in Israel, the CEO of Unilever wasn’t even summoned to a hearing and business with the company continues unabated?” Zinger wrote. “Through its longstanding silence and lack of action, Israel is facilitating future boycotts and granting a victory to the BDS movement.”
Zinger’s letter to Bennett was co-signed by 169 employees at the franchisee’s ice cream factory in Be’er Tuvia, about 30 miles south of Tel Aviv.
Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 for $326 million, has stated that the acquisition agreement bars it from interfering in decisions by the Vermont company’s board, which has maintained a degree of autonomy.
“We’re a values-led company with a long history of advocating for human rights, and economic and social justice,” Ben & Jerry’s said in announcing its decision last year to halt ice cream sales in Israeli settlements.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for our product to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation.”
In October, New York State pulled $111 million in investments out of Unilever, accusing it of violating policies that prohibit boycotts of Israel. New Jersey also withdrew $182 million which was invested in Unilever stock.
Unilever CEO Alan Jope denied the company harbored anti-Israel animus, stating last year: “Unilever has a strong and longstanding commitment to our business in Israel. We employ nearly 2,000 people in the country across our four factories and head office, and we have invested approximately $250 million in the Israeli market over the last decade.”
Meanwhile, last month Ben & Jerry’s parent Unilever said it planned a massive overhaul that includes job cuts and a global restructuring that will have the Vermont-based ice cream maker operate under a separate umbrella along with its sister brands Breyers and Klondike.
It is unclear if the public backlash to Ben & Jerry’s decision played a role in the parent company’s restructuring.