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Ben & Jerry's criticises resumption of sales in Israeli settlements

BY: BBC
Ben & Jerry's ice cream will continue to be made at this factory in Beer Tuvia, in southern Israel

Ben & Jerry's has said it does "not agree" with a deal by its parent company Unilever that allows its ice cream to continue being sold in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The firm said it still believed it was "inconsistent with Ben & Jerry's values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory" - a position welcomed by many Palestinians.

Israel praised Unilever's reversal of last year's decision by Ben & Jerry's to stop such sales as a victory against discrimination and anti-Semitism.

Unilever's decision came after legal action from its Israeli licensee American Quality Products (AQP) and its owner Avi Zinger, who were seeking damages from the UK-based consumer goods giant. Their contract had been due to expire at the end of this year anyway.

There was also pressure against the withdrawal from shareholders, including activist investor Nelson Peltz, and politicians in the United States.

Ben & Jerry's will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership of the current licensee.

Mr Zinger thanked Unilever and the Israeli government for their support in reaching a deal which he said gave him the rights to sell the ice cream "forever". But he refused to comment on Ben & Jerry's rejection of the arrangement.

In a statement, he said: "There is no place for discrimination in the commercial sale of ice cream. It has always been important to me to ensure that all customers - no matter their identity - are free to enjoy Ben & Jerry's ice cream."

Ben & Jerry's, which was founded by best friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in the US state of Vermont in 1978, wrote in a Twitter thread: "While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it."

"Our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry's in Israel," it added.

Ever since Unilever bought the ice cream company in 2000 it has retained an independent board with the right to make decisions about its social mission. The company has a history of speaking out about issues that it feels are important.

However, Unilever still had control of financial and operational decisions and said that was why it had intervened after Ben & Jerry's board decided to stop sales in Israeli settlements.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Unilever said the new arrangement followed a review of Ben & Jerry's operations in Israel and an extensive consultation, including dialogue with the Israeli government.

When the row erupted last July Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said a withdrawal would be bad business and morally wrong. Unilever owns several Israeli food brands, and in a phone call Mr Bennett warned its Chief Executive Alan Jope of "severe consequences". Ben & Jerry's is a popular ice cream choice amongst Israeli consumers, and the company even marks Jewish festivals with special flavours.

BBC