Israel’s prime minister warns Unilever of “grave consequences” from Ben & Jerry’s decision

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JERUSALEM, July 20 (Reuters) – Israel on Tuesday warned consumer goods giant Unilever Plc (ULVR.L) of the “grave consequences” of a decision by subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories, and urged the US States to enforce anti-boycott laws.

Monday’s announcement followed pro-Palestinian pressure on the Vermont-based company for its operations in Israel and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which have been conducted through a licensing partner, Ben & Jerry’s Israel, since 1987.

Ben & Jerry’s announced that they will not renew their license when it expires at the end of next year. It said it would remain in Israel under a different arrangement, with no sales in the West Bank, areas where Palestinians seek statehood. Continue reading

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that he had complained to Unilever boss Alan Jope about the “blatant anti-Israeli measures”.

“From an Israeli perspective, this action has grave consequences, legal and otherwise, and it will act aggressively against any boycott against civilians,” Bennett told Jope on a phone call, according to the Prime Minister’s office.

Unilever did not respond immediately.

Most world powers consider Israeli settlements illegal. She denies this, citing historical and security-related connections to the country and has started to punish anti-settlement measures by law.

Tubs of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, a Unilever brand, can be seen in their store in London, UK on October 5th, 2020. REUTERS / Hannah McKay / File Photo

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Avi Zinger, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Israel, said he was unwilling to refuse to sell the ice cream to Israeli citizens in settlements and was legally prevented from doing so.

“When they (Ben & Jerry’s) realized there was no way I was going to stop it, they decided not to renew my contract,” he told Reuters.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, said he raised Ben & Jerry’s decision in a letter to 35 US governors whose states have passed laws against boycotting Israel.

“Rapid and decisive action must be taken to counter such discriminatory and anti-Semitic acts,” said the letter tweeted by the envoy comparing the case with Airbnb’s 2018 announcement to remove rental properties in settlements.

Airbnb reversed this decision in 2019 after legal challenges in the US, but announced that it would donate profits from bookings in the settlements to humanitarian causes.

The Palestinians welcomed the Ben & Jerry announcement. They want the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as a future state. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status that is not internationally recognized. Gaza is controlled by Hamas Islamists who refuse to coexist with Israel.

Orna Barbivai, Israel’s Minister of Economic Affairs, posted a video of her throwing a tub of Ben & Jerry’s in the trash. Ayman Odeh, an opposition lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, tweeted a picture of him dug into his own tub, smiling.

Letter from Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Raissa Kasolowsky and Edmund Blair

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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