Ben & Jerry’s Israel CEO on lawsuit: ‘I refuse to boycott my neighbors’

Ben & Jerry’s Israel CEO says, “I refuse to boycott my neighbors,” calls out Unilever “hypocrisy.”

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

The Israeli manufacturer and distributor of Ben & Jerry’s opened up on Monday about his lawsuit against the Vermont-based ice cream maker, saying, “the company wants me to boycott my neighbors. I refuse.”

Avi Zinger, whose company American Quality Products (AQP) became the first licensee of Ben & Jerry’s in the mid-1980s, filed a lawsuit against the ice cream company and its parent company Unilever earlier in March.

In a Monday newsletter published by journalist Bari Weiss, Zinger wrote that after three decades of working with Ben & Jerry’s, he is being “forced out” of his licensing agreement because he refused to comply with its decision to no longer sell products in “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” namely Judea and Samaria and east Jerusalem.

“I refuse to discriminate, and I strongly believe that boycotts are not the path to peace in the Middle East,” he explained. “But most significant of all: the Ben & Jerry’s directive is against the law … Requiring that I stop selling my ice cream to any customers — Palestinians or Israelis, Christians or Druze — based on where they live is illegal.”

Zinger said the prohibition violates Israel’s anti-discrimination law and anti-boycott law, as well as the terms of AQP’s own license agreement. It also runs afoul of American laws and policies designed to protect Israel from economic attacks.

He called Ben & Jerry’s claim that the boycott is not of Israel, and that the company will maintain a presence in the Jewish state, “disingenuous.”

“Under the law, no one can lawfully do what Ben & Jerry’s is demanding I do,” Zinger noted. “So unless Ben & Jerry’s finds someone willing to violate the law and go against Israeli and U.S. public policy, there will be no Ben & Jerry’s anywhere in Israel when my current license ends at the end of this year.”

‘Treating human beings as political pawns is shameful’

Zinger wrote that while he proposed alternative ways forward to Ben & Jerry’s, including having a Palestinian distributor handle products in Judea and Samaria, these were turned down.

He also slammed the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, saying, “Contrary to what you may have read, BDS is not about opposing a particular Israeli policy. It is about opposing Israel’s very existence, and thus it rejects any effort to ‘normalize’ relations between Israelis and Palestinians. BDS cares more about ending Israel entirely than providing economic opportunities to Palestinians.”

Zinger concluded by noting the “hypocrisy” in Unilever’s actions, as the British conglomerate continues to sell thousands of other products — including Hellman’s mayonnaise, Dove soap, and Magnum and Strauss ice creams — in Judea and Samaria and east Jerusalem.

“They speak about social justice yet are quick to throw hundreds of employees who have been loyal to the company for so many years under the bus,” he argued. “I refuse to abandon my people like that. And it is Palestinians who will be harmed the most.”

“Today,” Zingler reflected, “a company is demanding that I stop providing ice cream to customers in Judea and Samaria and east Jerusalem, but tomorrow it could be medicine or life-saving technology. Discrimination is wrong and treating human beings as political pawns is shameful.”

Ben & Jerry’s boycott has drawn controversy since it was announced in July 2021 and prompted many U.S. states that have passed laws against investing public funds in companies that boycott Israel to launch divestment proceedings from Unilever, including Colorado, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas.

On Thursday, an umbrella group representing more than 50 national Jewish American organizations called on Unilever “to exercise its contractual right to overrule” Ben & Jerry’s “shameful and discriminatory campaign.”