Ben Jerry’s ice cream said Monday it was going to stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying the sales are “inconsistent with our values”.
Israeli settlements in occupied territory are widely seen by the international community as illegal and obstacles to peace.
In a statement posted on the company’s website, the Vermont-based ice cream maker says it recognises “the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners”.
“We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region,” the statement said. “We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.”
The statement did not explicitly identify the concerns raised, but last month, a group called Vermonters for Justice in Palestine called on Ben Jerry’s to “end complicity in Israel’s occupation and abuses of Palestinian human rights”.
“How much longer will Ben Jerry’s permit its Israeli-manufactured ice cream to be sold in Jewish-only settlements while Palestinian land is being confiscated, Palestinian homes are being destroyed, and Palestinian families in neighborhoods like Sheik Jarrah are facing eviction to make way for Jewish settlers?” the organisation’s Ian Stokes said in a June 10 news release.
The organisation did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Founded in Vermont in 1978, but currently owned by consumer goods conglomerate Unilever, Ben Jerry’s has not shied away from social causes.
While many businesses tread lightly in politics for fear of alienating customers, the ice cream maker has taken the opposite approach, often espousing progressive causes.
Ben Jerry’s took a stand against what it called the Trump administration’s regressive policies by rebranding one of its flavours Pecan Resist in 2018, ahead of midterm elections.
The company said Pecan Resist celebrated activists who were resisting oppression, harmful environmental practices and injustice. As part of the campaign, Ben Jerry’s said it was giving $25,000 each to four activist entities.
Aida Touma-Sliman, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and legislator with the Joint List of Arab parties, wrote on Twitter that Ben and Jerry’s decision Monday was “just and moral”.
This decision is just and moral. The Occupied Palestinian Territories are not a part of Israel – and stopping sales in them will help put pressure for the end of the occupation. Hopefully BJ are not the last to take this step. https://t.co/yeCGZKOwwr
— MK Aida Touma-Sliman (@AidaTuma) July 19, 2021
She added that the “occupied territories are not part of Israel” and that the move is an important step to help pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation.
While Ben Jerry’s products will not be sold in the occupied territories, the company said it will stay in Israel.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the decision “a shameful capitulation to antisemitism, BDS and everything bad in the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse”.
He said he is going to take the issue to the more than 30 US states that have legislation against the anti-Israel boycott movement.
BDS welcomes decision
The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement is a grassroots Palestinian-led campaign that advocates boycotts of Israeli institutions and businesses.
For its part, the BDS movement applauded Ben Jerry’s decision as “a decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights” but called upon the company to do more.
“We hope that Ben Jerry’s has understood that, in harmony with its social justice commitments, there can be no business as usual with apartheid Israel,” a statement read.