Israel threatens action against Ben & Jerry’s over move to halt sales in settlements

Palestinian leaders welcome decision by ice-cream maker not to trade in such areas

Israelis visit the Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory in the Be’er Tuvia Industrial area on Tuesday. Photograph: AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

Israelis visit the Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory in the Be’er Tuvia Industrial area on Tuesday. Photograph: AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

 

Palestinian leaders have welcomed a decision by ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its produce in West Bank settlements, while Israel has vowed to take severe action against the company over the decision, including legal measures.

The Palestinian foreign ministry in Ramallah welcomed what it termed the “moral step consistent with international law” and urged other international companies to follow suit.

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett told Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, the company that owns the ice-cream maker, that Israel views the decision gravely.

“Israel sees this decision as one that has serious consequences, legal and otherwise, and it will act strongly against any act of boycott directed against its citizens,” Mr Bennett said.

Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid tweeted: “Ben & Jerry’s decision represents shameful surrender to antisemitism, to BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse. We will not be silent.”

He noted that 30 US states had passed legislation against boycotts of Israel in recent years and said Israel would approach each state to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s.

The Israeli government launched a similar campaign against Airbnb after the accommodation rental giant threatened to stop listing West Bank settlement properties on its platform in 2018, forcing the company to eventually back down.

However, supporters of the Ben & Jerry’s move, including anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now, said that refusing to trade in settlements – considered illegal by almost the entire international community – was not the same as boycotting Israel proper.

Full boycott

The main BDS movement welcomed Ben & Jerry’s decision but urged the Vermont-based company to extend its measure to a full boycott of Israel.

The founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, are both Jewish and have a history of supporting progressive causes.

The ice-cream company announced on Monday it was going to stop selling its product in the occupied Palestinian territories, meaning in settlements and in Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem built beyond the 1967 green line, saying the sales were “inconsistent with our values”. It said the decision would take effect at the end of 2022, when its contract with the current Israeli manufacturer and distributor of its product expires.

Ben & Jerry’s has operated in Israel for 35 years and has a local factory. Its Israel franchise informed the American parent company that it would disobey the order and continue sales in settlements. In turn, the Israel franchise was informed that its licence to use the brand would not be renewed.

Under Israeli law, companies that boycott settlements face potential lawsuits, so it is unlikely Ben & Jerry’s would be able to find an alternative local franchise.