As The Jewish Press and other media have reported, ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s intended to end the sale of their products over the Green Line in Yehudah and Shomron as a protest against what it calls Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, but that plan has been thwarted. A lawsuit challenging the boycott, brought by the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law, has now been settled, resulting in the continued marketing of the product across Israel, including Yehudah and Shomron.
Last year, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would not renew the 34-year-old franchise license of Avi Zinger’s American Quality Products company to manufacture and sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel unless it stopped marketing it over the Green Line. This prompted the filing of a federal lawsuit on Zinger’s behalf by the Brandeis Center against Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever, the New Jersey-headquartered British conglomerate. Among Unilever’s big name brands are Hellmann’s, Dove, Lipton and Breyers.
The lawsuit alleged that the demands made of Zinger would require him to violate various Israeli and American anti-boycott and anti-discrimination laws. Although Unilever was opposed to the boycott, under the terms of its purchase of the company in 2000 the board of Ben & Jerry’s retained the right to make decisions on social issues while Unilever was responsible for financial and operational decisions.
In the settlement, Unilever agreed to sell its Ben & Jerry interests in Israel to Zinger, meaning he can continue as the exclusive producer and distributor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream products in the country.
A spokesman for Ben & Jerry’s slammed Unilever’s agreement with Zinger. “We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” he said.
Unilever’s statement was more to the point about what was really in play: discrimination and anti-Semitism:
Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Anti-Semitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the Boycott investment sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position. Unilever is very proud of our business in Israel which supplies everyday household products to people across the country.
Brandeis Center President Alyza Lewin called the settlement “a major defeat for BDS and an enormous victory for civil and human rights.”
We salute Mr. Zinger for standing up for principle, and the Brandeis Center and its legal team for stepping up to the plate at this vulnerable time in our history. Theirs was a signal victory.