Ben & Jerry's boycott could harm Palestinian employees

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The Jerusalem Post 21 July, 2021 - 09:54am 45 views

Who owns Ben and Jerry ice cream?

Ben & Jerry's, a wholly-owned autonomous subsidiary of Unilever, operates its business on a three-part mission statement emphasizing product quality, economic reward and a commitment to the community. unileverusa.comBen & Jerry's | Brands

The strong reaction reflected concerns in Israel that the ice cream maker's decision could lead other companies to follow suit. It also appeared to set the stage for a protracted public relations and legal battle.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office said he spoke with Alan Jope, chief executive of Ben & Jerry's parent company Unilever, and raised concern about what he called a “clearly anti-Israel step.” He said the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise," and Israel "will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment directly on the company's decision. But he said the U.S. rejects the boycott movement against Israel, saying it “unfairly singles out” the country.

In Monday's announcement, Ben & Jerry's said it would stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem. The company, known for its social activism, said such sales were “inconsistent with our values.”

The statement was one of the strongest rebukes by a high-profile company of Israel's settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which it has controlled for more than a half-century after capturing them in the 1967 Mideast war.

The Palestinians, with broad international support, claim both areas as parts of a future independent state. Israeli settlements, now home to some 700,000 Israelis, are widely seen as illegal and obstacles to peace.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers the entire city its undivided capital, though the annexation is not internationally recognized. It says the West Bank is disputed territory and says its final status should be resolved in negotiations. The international community, however, widely considers both areas to be occupied territory.

In its statement, Ben & Jerry's said it had informed its longtime Israeli partner that it will not renew its license agreement when it expires at the end of 2022.

While noting it would not serve Israeli-occupied areas, it said it would continue to provide ice cream in Israel “through a different arrangement.” A number of companies, most notably beverage company SodaStream, have closed factories in the occupied West Bank but few have targeted Israeli consumers living there.

It remains unclear how Ben & Jerry's plans to do that. Israeli supermarket chains, a primary distribution channel for the cleverly named flavors of ice cream, operate in the settlements, and under Israeli law, people or companies that boycott the settlements can be sued.

On the global stage, Israel does not differentiate between settlements and the rest of the country. When home-rental company Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer list properties in West Bank settlements, Israel harshly condemned the move as part of a broader Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.

Israel's strategic affairs minister at the time, Gilad Erdan, encouraged Israelis harmed by the decision to sue Airbnb. Several months later, after continued Israeli criticism and a U.S. federal lawsuit filed by Israeli Americans, the company reversed course.

Erdan, now Israel's ambassador to the U.S., said Tuesday that he had sent a letter to the governors of 35 states that have passed laws against anti-Israel boycott activity.

“Rapid and determined action must be taken to counter such discriminatory and antisemitic actions,” he wrote. “We must stand united and send an unequivocal message that this will not be tolerated.”

But even some of Israel's supporters said the company was on solid ground.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel group J-Street, said it was not antisemitism to differentiate between Israel and settlements built on occupied territory.

“Instead of demonizing and attacking companies and individuals for making principled decisions,” he said, “these leaders would make a greater contribution to the fight against antisemitism by helping to bring the unjust and harmful occupation to a peaceful end.”

The dispute has turned the Israeli ice cream market into the latest front in Israel's long-running battle against the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led grassroots campaign that promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities.

BDS organizers say they are protesting what they call Israeli oppression of Palestinians in a campaign modeled on the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Its nonviolent message has resonated with audiences around the world, including on many U.S. college campuses.

But Israel says the movement has a deeper agenda aimed at delegitimizing and destroying the country.

Omar Barghouti, a BDS co-founder, said the movement had been urging Ben & Jerry's to pull out of Israel for years. He called its decision “quite significant.”

“It shows you cannot have business with an apartheid state without being complicit,” he said. "We expect more socially responsible companies to follow suit, perhaps less publicly.

Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry's in 2000, appeared Tuesday to distance itself from the ice cream maker. In a statement, Unilever noted that under the purchase agreement, it recognized Ben & Jerry's independence and right “to take decisions about its social mission.”

“We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades,” it said.

Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at George Mason University's Scalia Law School, said that despite such assurances, the global company could be vulnerable to U.S. state laws banning anti-Israel boycott activity.

Kontorovich, who consulted with lawmakers in some states that adopted the laws, said they treat anti-Israel boycotts as a form of discrimination. Violating these laws, he said, could make both Ben & Jerry's and Unilever ineligible for state contracts or prompt states to drop Unilever shares from large pension funds.

“They may see that mixing ice cream and anti-Israel politics may not be the best idea,” he said.

The battle comes against the backdrop of shifting U.S. attitudes toward Israel. Where Israel once enjoyed solid bipartisan support in the U.S., the country has turned into a divisive issue in recent years, with Republicans strongly supporting it and Democrats, especially young liberal voters, increasingly supporting the Palestinians.

Several factors have fueled this trend, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's close alliance with former President Donald Trump.

Michael Oren, who served as Netanyahu's ambassador to the U.S., said the trends were worrisome for Israel.

While he said the Ben & Jerry's decision posed no immediate threat to Israel's robust economy, he said the boycott movement could contribute to a “steady erosion of Israel's legitimacy.”

“Our enemies know they cannot destroy us with all those missiles,” he told reporters. “They can destroy us economically through sanctions and boycotts. And that's where BDS poses a long-term threat.”

AP correspondent Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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Israel warns of 'severe consequences' after Ben & Jerry's bans sales in Israeli-occupied territories

Daily Mail 21 July, 2021 - 09:10am

By Jack Newman For Mailonline

Israel has warned of 'severe consequences' against Unilever after its subsidiary Ben & Jerry's announced it will stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The ice cream brand said yesterday the sale of its products in the territories sought by the Palestinians are 'inconsistent with our values'.

Israel's prime minister Naftali Bennett said he has spoken with Unilever CEO Alan Jope about the 'glaring anti-Israel measure' and said he would react aggressively against any boycotts. 

The Ben & Jerry's announcement followed pro-Palestinian pressure on the US company over its business in Israel and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, handled through a licensee partner since 1987.

The ice cream company said it would not renew the license when it expires at the end of next year and would stay in Israel under a different arrangement, without sales in the West Bank, among areas where Palestinians seek statehood.

Israel's prime minister Naftali Bennett has warned of 'severe consequences' against Unilever after its subsidiary Ben & Jerry's announced it will stop selling its ice cream

The Ben & Jerry's statement cited 'the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners'

Most world powers deem Israel's settlements illegal. It disputes this, citing historical and security links to the land, and has moved to penalise anti-settlement measures under Israeli law while securing similar legal protection in some US  states.

Bennett's office said: 'From Israel's standpoint, this action has severe consequences, legal and otherwise, and it will move aggressively against any boycott measure targeting civilians.'

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also slammed the decision, tweeting that: 'Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy'. 

Britain's Unilever did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador to Washington, said he had raised the Ben & Jerry's decision in a letter sent to 35 US governors whose states legislated against boycotting Israel.

The ice cream brand said yesterday the sale of its products in the territories sought by the Palestinians are 'inconsistent with our values'

'Rapid and determined action must be taken to counter such discriminatory and antisemitic actions,' read the letter, tweeted by the envoy, which likened the case to Airbnb's 2018 announcement that it would delist settlement rental properties.

Airbnb reversed that decision in 2019 following legal challenges in the United States, but said it would donate profits from bookings in the settlements to humanitarian causes.

Palestinians welcomed the Ben & Jerry's announcement. They want the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for a future state. Israel deems all of Jerusalem its capital - a status not recognised internationally.

Founded in Vermont in 1978, but currently owned by Unilever, Ben & Jerry's has not shied away from social causes.  

The brand took a stand against Donald Trump administration's by rebranding one of its flavors Pecan Resist in 2018, ahead of the midterm elections.

The company said the flavour 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. 

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli troops in the West Bank. The West Bank and east Jerusalem were captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Some 700,000 Israeli settlers now live in the two territories - roughly 500,000 in the occupied West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem

Israel in recent years has become a partisan issue in Washington, with many Democrats - particularly of the party's progressive wing - growing increasingly critical over a number of Israeli policies, including settlement construction, and Netanyahu's close ties with former President Trump. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been an outspoken critic of Israel.

The BDS movement - shorthand for a grassroots, Palestinian-led movement that advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli institutions and businesses - 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.

The Israeli government says the BDS movement masks a deeper aim of delegitimizing or even destroying the entire country.

The Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing the roughly 500,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements, said 'there's no need to buy products from companies that boycott hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens because of the place they choose to live.' It said Ben & Jerry's decision 'brought a bad spirit to such a sweet industry' and called on Israelis to buy locally produced ice cream this summer.

Ben & Jerry's move on Monday may not be the final chapter in the saga. Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would stop advertising properties in Israeli settlements. Several months later, after coming under harsh criticism from Israel and a federal lawsuit by Israeli Americans who owned property in the settlements, the company reversed its decision.

Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the town of Merrick, on Long Island. Cohen first met and befriended his future business partner Jerry Greenfield in a seventh grade gym class in 1963. In his senior year, Cohen found work as an ice cream man before leaving to attend Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.

Over the next decade, Cohen pursued his interest in pottery and dropped out of college after his sophomore year. He also worked as McDonald's cashier, Pinkerton guard, deliverer of pottery wheels, mop-boy at Jamesway and Friendly's, assistant superintendent, ER clerk, and taxi driver, before settling on work as a craft teacher at a private school for emotionally-disturbed adolescents. While teaching at the Highland Community School, Cohen began experimenting with making his own ice cream.

Greenfield grew up on Long Island and attended Merrick Avenue Junior High School, where he met Ben Cohen in 1963. Greenfield and Cohen both attended Calhoun High School and remained friends until they both graduated and left Long Island to attend college. Greenfield chose to pursue a pre-med curriculum at Oberlin College. At Oberlin, Greenfield began working as an ice cream scooper in the school's cafeteria.

After graduating in 1973, Greenfield failed to get into medical school. At this point, Greenfield decided to move back to New York where he shared an apartment with Cohen and worked as a lab technician. In 1974, Greenfield was again rejected from medical school and decided to move to North Carolina with his future wife and continued to work as a lab technician.

Greenfield lived with Cohen in Saratoga Springs, New York during the summer of 1977. They decided to go into business with each other in May 1978, the two men opened Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream Parlor in Burlington, Vermont. They initially intended to start a bagel business, but found the equipment costs prohibitive and switched to ice cream instead.

They chose Burlington as a location because it was a prominent college town which, at the time, had no ice cream shop. They took a five-dollar correspondence course in ice-cream making and opened their first store in a former gas station. Ben & Jerry's opened in the summer of 1978.

Ben & Jerry's distinctive style of ice cream was developed to compensate for Cohen's anosmia, as he kept adding larger and larger chunks to the ice cream to satisfy his need for texture in food. Ben & Jerry's became popular in Burlington. 

Ben & Jerry's was sold to Marmite and Dove soap maker Unilever for $325million in 2000. Reports indicate that Greenfield pocketed $9.5million while Cohen took away $41million. 

Both Cohen and Greenfield are still paid to represent the brand, though neither has formal responsibilities.   

Speaking in 2015, Greenfield said: 'Oh yes, I'm definitely an ageing hippy. Many people think the hippies were irresponsible but we really believed in all that stuff about peace and love and caring for each other; we still do. And we still try to make a difference.' 

He added: 'Ben & Jerry's continues to have an anti-corporatist and anti-authoritarian outlook on all the big issues we care about, such as climate change and social values, and remains outspoken when it's important.' 

Cohen turned his new-found wealth and prominence toward a variety of social causes, generally through the Ben & Jerry's Foundation. The Foundation receives 7.5 per cent of all Ben & Jerry's pre-tax profits and distributes funds to organizations such as the Anti Displacement Project. 

He supported Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 Democratic Party presidential primaries. In 2008, he initially supported John Edwards followed by Barack Obama. Cohen became a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries.

Cohen debuted a special ice cream flavour called 'Bernie's Yearning' on January 25, 2016 out of support for Sanders. Ben & Jerry's released a statement disavowing connection or support for the product.

On April 18, 2016, Cohen was arrested, with Greenfield, while at a Democracy Awakening protest in Washington, DC. On February 21, 2019, Cohen was named a national co-chair of Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign. 

In 2018, in protest against the Trump administration, the company rebranded one of its flavours Pecan Resist ahead of the 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. 

In the wake of George Floyd's killing, in June 2020, the brand spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after a wave of protests. It encouraged people to 'tackle systemic and institutionalized racism', and said: 'All lives do matter. But all lives will not matter until black lives matter.'

A few weeks later, Ben & Jerry's joined other global brands in pulling advertising from Facebook as part of the 'Stop hate for profit' campaign, and urged the social network to impose stricter measures on hate speech.

In August, the company faced a boycott in the UK and was slammed for 'virtue signaling' after it hit out at Home Secretary Priti Patel over her treatment of migrants crossing the English Channel.

In September 2020, the brand launched a podcast about American white supremacy, titled Who We Are: a Chronicle of Racism in America.

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