Ben and Jerry’s hits back at critics of boycott decision

The ice-cream maker denounced ‘violent threats’ being made against its board following July’s decision to stop selling its products in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Ben and Jerry’s hit back Thursday at opponents of its decision last month to stop selling their products in what it deems ‘the occupied Palestinian territories’ as soon as their local franchise’s license runs out in December 2022.

“Ben & Jerry’s condemns the hateful and violent threats that have been directed at our company, our business partners, our Board, and particularly our Board Chair. We stand together—Ben & Jerry’s and our Board—in denouncing hate, intimidation, and threats of violence in any form,” the company tweeted. “We will continue to be guided by our values and commitment to human rights and justice.”

The ice-cream maker, and its owner, global food giant Unilever, have faced a serious backlash ever since Ben and Jerry’s board of directors voted to stop supplying Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem with its frozen treats, even though the decision will not take effect for over a year.

Eight U.S. states have already begun to study whether these plans violate their states’ anti-BDS laws, which demand in many cases that state-backed entities, including public pension funds, divest from companies that boycott any part of Israel. They are Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Rode Island, and Texas.

Some 35 states have such laws on their books, and their theoretical divestment from Unilever could cause a significant difference to the multinational’s stock performance and estimated value.

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Ben and Jerry’s board retained an unusual amount of independence when it was sold to Unilever in 2000, and board chairperson Anuradha Mittal had told NBC News that the group had wanted to pull out of Israel completely. Unilever had limited its reach, however, in a move she condemned.

Mittal, who has referred to Israel’s founding as a “catastrophe” and charged it with being an apartheid state, had complained within days of the decision that she was receiving a lot of hate mail online.

On the political-economic front, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Unilever CEO Alan Joppe that Israel could take “aggressive action” against the company. Its Israeli branch owns many of the country’s most well-known brands, has four manufacturing sites and operates an innovation center, making hundreds of millions of dollars of business annually in exports and local sales.

The Jewish founders of the company, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, published an op-ed last month in The New York Times wholeheartedly supporting the decision, saying that it is in line with their progressive Jewish values and is not a form of backing the anti-Israel BDS movement.

“While we no longer have any operational control of the company we founded in 1978, we’re proud of its action and believe it is on the right side of history. In our view, ending the sales of ice cream in the occupied territories is one of the most important decisions the company has made in its 43-year history,” they wrote.

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The current licensee, Avi Zinger, has never buckled to boycotting pressure by the parent company, which historically touts among its progressive values a firm pro-Palestinian stance.