Ben & Jerry’s owners criticise parent company’s resumption of sales in West Bank settlements

Israel welcomes Unilever’s decision to end boycott by US ice-cream company

Israel has welcomed the decision by Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, to resume selling in West Bank settlements, overturning the boycott declared last year by the American ice-cream company.

The boycott had been welcomed by the Palestinian leadership who described it as “a decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights”. The move at the time was considered a big victory for the worldwide BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which seeks to stop trade with West Bank settlements.

Israel reacted furiously, calling the boycott anti-Semitic and launched a campaign against Unilever, persuading 35 US states to introduce anti-BDS legislation.

In a statement on Wednesday, Unilever said it had sold its Israeli business to its local licensee.

“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.”

Foreign minister Yair Lapid, who on Friday will assume the role of interim prime minister, said the decision marked a victory over anti-Semitism.

“We will fight against de-legitimisation and the BDS boycott movement in every arena,” he said. “The Ben & Jerry’s factory in Israel is a symbol of diversity and co-existence in Israeli society. The victory today is for all those who know that the battle against the BDS is first and foremost to promote partnership and mutual discourse against discrimination and hatred.”

Ben & Jerry’s Jewish owners argued for a settlement boycott but stressed they opposed a boycott on Israel proper.

“While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it. Unilever’s arrangement means our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry’s in Israel,” a statement said. “We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice-cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Omar Shakir from Human Rights Watch said Unilever was seeking to undermine the “principled decision” of the Ben & Jerry’s board.

“Ben & Jerry’s won’t be doing business in illegal settlements. What comes next may look and taste similar, but, without Ben & Jerry’s recognised social justice values, it’s just a pint of ice-cream.”

More than 600,000 Jews live in settlements, built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War and considered illegal by most of the international community.

This is not the first time that Israeli pressure has forced a big international company to cancel a settlement boycott. In 2019, short-term rental giant Airbnb also backtracked after initially declaring that apartments on settlements would no longer be listed on their site.