Caving to BDS? General Mills divests from major factory in Jerusalem

General Mills’ decision to sell its majority stake in eastern Jerusalem Pillsbury plant comes after pressure from brand’s founding family, years-long campaign by BDS activists.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Food industry titan General Mills announced on Tuesday that it was divesting from an eastern Jerusalem factory manufacturing its Pillsbury dough brand in a move that BDS activists are celebrating as a victory for their movement.

General Mills has operated the plant in the Atarot Industrial Zone since 2002 as part of a joint venture with an Israeli company, according to a report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).

But the company has recently come under fire from BDS groups for maintaining a factory in the area, which is outside of the 1967 Green Line.

A laconic statement from General Mills on the divestment said that the conglomerate had sold its majority stake in its Israeli operation. It noted that the move “follows our earlier announcement of the proposed sale of our European dough business.”

Conspicuously absent from the statement was any reference to the BDS movement. The reference to the restructuring of General Mills’ overseas operations appeared to suggest that the Israeli divestment was simply a business decision.

But BDS activists hailed the divestment as the culmination of years of pressure on General Mills to cease its operations in eastern Jerusalem.

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“Following a two-year campaign calling on General Mills to stop making Pillsbury products on stolen Palestinian land, the company announced yesterday that it had divested its Israeli business altogether,” read a statement from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization that is staunchly pro-Palestinian.

“With this move, General Mills is joining many other American and European companies that have divested from Israel’s illegal occupation, including Microsoft and Unilever just in the last couple of years,” Noam Perry, a member of AFSC’s Economic Activism program, was quoted as saying in the statement.

“We call on all companies to divest from Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation of Palestine, and from the apartheid system it is part of. We congratulate General Mills on this decision and hope this is the first step in cutting all its ties to Israeli apartheid and toward respecting universal human rights.”

Bodan Holdings, General Mills’ Israel-based partner that previously owned 40 percent of the eastern Jerusalem factory, now owns the entire operation.

It is unclear if General Mills will allow its Pillsbury brand to be manufactured at the site.

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In an interview with Al Jazeera in June 2021, Charles Pillsbury — whose great-grandfather founded the dough brand — said that his family did not want products bearing their name to be manufactured on “occupied territory.”

Pillsbury claimed that the site is a “sweatshop” where Palestinians work “under armed guards all day” and “they get less than half the wages that Palestinians would if they worked in Israel. So it’s a wretched situation.”

General Mills has denied those allegations, and Pillsbury did not provide any evidence to back up that claim.