Ben & Jerry’s ice cream battle in Israel escalates

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream battle in Israel escalates

A week after its parent company found a way to sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, the company known for its stance on social issues almost as much as its Chunky Monkey ice cream is suing justice to block that from happening.

Unilever said it was selling its stake in the Vermont ice cream maker to its Israeli licensee, which would market Ben & Jerry’s products with Hebrew and Arabic labels.

Israel-Ben & Jerry’s

FILE – Two customers enter Ben & Jerry’s ice cream store, July 20, 2021, in Burlington, Vt. The Vermont-based ice cream maker is suing its parent company Unilever over a plan that would allow its product to be sold in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, July 6, 2022 in New York, the ice cream maker asked a court to block Unilever’s decision to sell the business stake in the ice cream business in Israel to a local company that would sell ice cream with Hebrew. and Arabic labeling poses “a risk” to the integrity of the Ben & Jerry’s brand. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Ben & Jerry’s hit back in federal court in Manhattan this week saying Unilever’s move “poses a risk” to the integrity of its brand. He claims the deal violates the 2000 acquisition agreement that allowed Ben & Jerry’s to pursue its progressive social mission independent of business decisions made by Unilever.

“An injunction preventing Unilever from breaching the express terms of the merger agreement and the shareholders’ agreement is essential to preserve the status quo and protect the brand and social integrity that Ben & Jerry’s has taken decades to build” , says the complaint.

This passage from the lawsuit references the intense bidding process that took place in 2000 for Ben & Jerry’s, one of America’s most recognizable brands. Ben & Jerry’s was adamant that even after a sale, it would be allowed to pursue its social causes.

The final deal was so unique that Richard Goldstein, then group chairman of Unilever North American Foods, said “‘I’ve never made another deal remotely like it,'” according to the lawsuit.

By agreeing to the sale, Ben & Jerry’s was granted an independent board of directors that was authorized to prevent Unilever from making decisions “inconsistent with the essential integrity of the brand”, according to the legal documents.

Unilever said it was not commenting on pending litigation, but said it had the right to sell and “the deal is already done.”

The complaint outlines Ben & Jerry’s history of social activism over its 44-year history, including opposing US spending on nuclear weapons in the 1980s and in the 1990s to support the rights of LGBTQ+ and farmers.

This activism continued under Unilever with a focus on, among other things, migrant justice and climate change. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020, Ben & Jerry’s became an advocate for Black Lives Matter.

Ben & Jerry’s independent board last year said it would stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and challenged East Jerusalem, saying sales in Palestinian-wanted territory were “incompatible with our values”.

Unilever said it was committed to its operations in Israel, and earlier this year was sued by its Israeli licensee, American Quality Products Ltd, for terminating their business relationship, claiming it violated US laws and Israelis.

When Unilever announced it was selling the Israeli business to American Quality Products last week, it said it had “taken the opportunity over the past year to listen to views on this complex and sensitive issue and believe that this is the best result for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.”

Israel hailed Unilever’s move as a victory in its ongoing campaign against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which aims to exert economic pressure on Israel over its military occupation of land the Palestinians want. for a future state.

Unilever does not support the BDS movement and said it was “very proud” of its operations in Israel, where it employs around 2,000 people and has four manufacturing plants.

Ben & Jerry’s decision in 2021 was not a full boycott and appeared to target Israel’s settlement enterprise. Some 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed and considers part of its capital. Israel captured both territories in the 1967 Middle East war, and the Palestinians want them to be part of their future state.

Most of the international community views settlements as a violation of international law. The Palestinians see them as the main obstacle to peace because they absorb and share the lands on which a future Palestinian state would be established. Every Israeli government has expanded settlements, including at the height of the peace process in the 1990s.

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