Ben & Jerry’s food fight: Israeli settlement boycott puts ice cream brand at odds with owner Unilever
Unilever, one of the largest with a stock market capitalization of £107 billion, is the most politically correct of all British companies.
The previous CEO, Paul Polman, was a proponent of the climate change agenda long before it was fashionable. Current boss, Alan Jope, went one step further with his mantra that Unilever is not just about selling Dove soap, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but is a company with a purpose.
The group’s embrace of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda makes it an easy target for those with an extreme “woke” agenda.
Cold War: Palestinian Artists Paint Mural in Support of Boycott of Israeli Products
This could very well explain why it is in the crosshairs of a battle over ice supplies to Israeli settlements, with members of that country’s cabinet chanting anti-Semitism and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett taking a stand.
The row over Ben & Jerry’s “independent” executives’ decision to get its goods from freezers in Israeli settlements proves a decisive test of Jope’s diplomatic skills.
The Ben & Jerry’s board acted after it came under intense pressure from pro-Palestinian activist groups in native Vermont, known for its radical politics and the home state of Senator Bernie Sanders, the Jewish con man with White House aspirations. and little support for Israel.
Fearing a backlash in the US, Unilever’s largest market, Jope wrote to major Jewish organizations this week to make it clear that his company “does not support” the boycott movement. He added that the company “unequivocally rejects any form of discrimination or intolerance.” He said: ‘Anti-Semitism has no place in society.’
What gives the current line an edge is that both Anglo-Dutch Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s have strong Jewish roots.
Unilever came into existence nearly a century ago when Liverpool-based Lever Brothers merged with Dutch firm Margarine Unie, a continental giant forged by Jewish entrepreneur Samuel van den Bergh.
Samuel, the younger van den Bergh, became general manager of his father’s margarine company in 1907 and built it into a colossus through a series of mergers and acquisitions.
There is no secret about the origins of Ben & Jerry’s. It was founded by Jewish childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.
The condition of the sale to Unilever in 2000 was that Unilever would retain its independence and operate with a separate board. That remains the case to this day.
It has always proudly displayed the kosher mark on its fairings. And Ben & Jerry’s founders Cohen and Greenfield wrote in the New York Times that “it is possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies.”
Unilever could have easily decided to use the whole pig and follow the independent recommendation of the Ben & Jerry’s board and boycott Israel altogether. But chief executive Jope has stood firm, acknowledging that such a decision could be devastating far beyond Israel.
For example, what would be the impact in China, one of the fastest-growing markets for its Lifebuoy sanitary products, if activists decide to boycott because of Beijing’s oppression of the Uyghurs or restrictions on freedoms in Hong Kong?
Even purposeful corporations have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders above all others under corporate law.
Being sucked into Israeli politics, with Prime Minister Bennett, a settlement supporter, crying, isn’t ideal.
Behind the furore in the United States, Israel and Unilever’s headquarters in London hides a much more insidious development. Social media, including the TikTok app, has embraced the Palestinian cause, leading to an outbreak of boycott activism in the US. So Ben & Jerry’s imbroglio may not be the last commercial battle for antiboycott forces.
Boycotts can do amazing things and contributed greatly to the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
But it is also true that one of the Nazis’ first steps in the 1930s was to boycott Jewish businesses.
From small beginnings in Germany – fomenting hatred against Jewish companies – came the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and the Holocaust. That’s why boycotts are so important to Israel.