Ben & Jerry’s sues parent company Unilever over sale of Israeli business


(JTA) — Ben & Jerry’s is not letting go of its West Bank pullout goal without a fight — with its parent company.

The iconic ice cream brand has filed a lawsuit against Unilever over its decision last week to sell the Israeli arm of the business to Israel-based franchise, American Quality Products, Ltd. and its owner Avi Zinger, which will continue to sell Ben & Jerry’s in the West Bank.

Ben & Jerry’s says that Unilever’s decision was made without the brand’s board’s consent, and wrote in a statement on Tuesday that stopping the sale is necessary to protect “the social integrity that the ice cream brand has spent decades building.” The lawsuit will aim to block the sale.

After publicly critiquing the Unilever move last week, the Ben & Jerry’s board voted on Friday to file the suit, the New York Post reported.

“It’s a done deal,” Zinger’s attorney Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, wrote in response. “Unilever chose the morally correct, socially just and principled path when it ensured that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream would always continue to be produced and sold in Israel and the West Bank.”

Other pro-Israel groups that had pressured Unilever to take action to maintain the brand’s Israel presence dismissed the lawsuit, with the Israeli-American Coalition for Action calling it “a tantrum by BDS activists at Ben & Jerry’s” (referring to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeting Israel).

IAC For Action executive director Joseph Sabag told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his group and others, including StandWithUs, turned Ben & Jerry’s into a rallying cause because of Unilever’s size and influence within the business world. They hoped to make the case a deterrent to other companies considering their own Israel restrictions, or considering a similar acquisition agreement that would give a brand the same kind of control over its social advocacy.

“I can hardly think of a company out there that would want to follow in Unilever’s footsteps now,” Sabag said. He referred to the pro-Israel advocacy campaign around Ben & Jerry’s as proof of concept for an “economic Iron Dome” protecting Israel from financial pressures, a reference to the country’s venerated missile defense system.

The Ben & Jerry’s board, which has a history of social justice advocacy, made the decision to stop selling its products in what they call “Occupied Palestinian Territory” following Israel’s deadly conflict with Hamas in May 2021. Unilever originally stated that it had little power over decisions made by Ben & Jerry’s board, which makes its recent decision to sell a surprise.

Correction:An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote to Avi Zinger. The quote actually came from his attorney, Alyza Lewin.

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