By Corinne Murdock |
On Wednesday, Unilever sold its Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel to its current licensee, American Quality Products (AQP), effectively reversing the ice cream brand’s boycott of Israeli-occupied territory they believed belonged to Palestinians, or “Occupied Palestinian Territory” (OPT). The move came about six months before Ben & Jerry’s license agreement there was set to expire. Ben & Jerry pledged to continue selling in Israel through a different arrangement after that — just not within OPT.
The British consumer goods conglomerate asserted in a press release that they weren’t supportive of Ben & Jerry’s boycott, which they implied was antisemitic. The company explained that it was slow to take action on the boycott, which began last July, because they wanted to conduct an extensive review with parties involved, including the Israeli government.
“Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position,” wrote Unilever.
The conglomerate expressed hope that the Israeli and Palestinian governments could reach a peaceful resolution in their conflict.
Ben & Jerry’s insisted that their boycott wasn’t rooted in antisemitism.
Ben & Jerry’s boycotted the Israel-occupied area last July in response to controversy over Israeli forces along the West Bank, which the company asserted was an illegal incursion. In response, State Treasurer Kimberly Yee divested Unilever of state funds in September. The state originally had around $143 million invested in the conglomerate.
At the time, Yee pointed to Arizona law prohibiting state funds from going to entities that boycott Israel.
“I gave Unilever PLC, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, an ultimatum: reverse the action of Ben & Jerry’s or divest itself of Ben & Jerry’s to come into compliance with Arizona law or face the consequences. They chose the latter,” said Yee. “It does not matter how much investment Unilever PLC has in Israel, with Ben & Jerry’s decision to no longer sell its product in the West Bank, the companies are in violation of the law in Arizona. Arizona will not do business with companies that are attempting to undermine Israel’s economy and blatantly disregarding Arizona’s law.”
On Thursday, Yee issued a formal statement commending Unilever for reversing Ben & Jerry’s boycott. However, the treasurer didn’t pledge to restore the divested funds immediately. Yee shared that her office would review Unilever before deciding to reinvest.
“[I] continue to be concerned about the woke decisions of Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors,” remarked Yee in closing.
In a statement, Ben & Jerry’s expressed that they didn’t support Unilever’s decision.
“We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” stated the company.