Ben & Jerry’s board wanted to boycott all of Israel

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Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors wanted to boycott Israel in its entirety, but was stopped from doing so by the ice-cream maker’s CEO and the British-based parent company Unilever.

“The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territory does not reflect the position of the Independent Board nor was it approved by the Independent Board,” read a statement by Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors. 

It was posted on social media, including on the Twitter page of board chairwoman Anuradha Mittal.

The famous ice cream company that originated in the US state of Vermont made headlines on Monday when it announced plans to boycott “the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” generally presumed in this context to mean West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

To achieve this goal, it plans to end its contract in December 2022 with the local Israeli franchise of Ben & Jerry’s, which has operated in the Jewish state for close to 35 years. 

Unilever has clarified that it plans to continue sales to areas of Israel within the pre-1967 lines, but would do so with a different local company.

Avi Zinger, owner of the Israeli Ben & Jerry’s franchise, who always sold his ice cream on both sides of the Green Line, has for years resisted pressure by the parent company to boycott West Bank settlements. 

But he ultimately has no control over the decision by Unilever, which has owned the global ice cream company since 2000.

Zinger told The Jerusalem Post he hopes the government of Israel and a persistent public campaign would sway Unilever to change its mind.

“The government of Israel cannot afford for this [the boycott] to happen,” Zinger said. “When you mix politics with ice cream, you do not know where it will stop.”

Unilever Israel has also clarified that it has no connection to the boycott call issued by the global company.

PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett spoke with Unilever CEO Alan Jope on Tuesday and explained that he viewed such an “anti-Israel step” with the “utmost gravity.”

Bennett “emphasized that from the perspective of the State of Israel, this is an action that has severe consequences, including legal ones, and it will take strong action against any boycott directed against its citizens,” according to a statement issued by his office.

But in an interview with NBC, Mittal said that Unilever had overstepped its authority by pledging to remain in Israel.

“It is stunning that they can say that when the statement was put out without the approval of the board,” she said.

She explained that under the terms of Unilever’s purchase agreement, an independent Board of Directors retains control over decisions relating to the company’s social mission and branding. Ben & Jerry’s is famous for tackling social issues.

In contesting the Unilever decision, the board posted the original text of its boycott message.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestine Territory,” read the board’s original statement.

“We have a longstanding agreement with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region.

“The Company will not renew the license agreement when it expires next year,” the board said. “We have always been led by our values and remain committed to being a social justice company.”

There was no mention in that original statement of an intent to remain in Israel. But the press release about the boycott that appeared on both of the global companies Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s web pages spoke of a commitment to doing business with Israel, outside of the “occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The one on the Ben & Jerry’s site stated that although the ice cream would “no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.”

The Ben & Jerry’s board said that it had the sole authority to make such a decision and that it had not done so.

“The Acquisition Agreement [with Unilever] grants the Independent Board [authority] on an issue directly related to Ben & Jerry’s social mission and brand integrity,” the board said. “Unilever and its CEO at Ben & Jerry’s are in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Acquisition Agreement.”

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