The Israeli prime minister has warned Unilever’s chief executive of “serious consequences” after the Ben & Jerry’s brand announced it would stop selling ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Naftali Bennett, an ultra-nationalist who took office in June, telephoned Unilever CEO Alan Jope on Tuesday and told him Unilever had taken a “clearly anti-Israel step” that would be met with a “strong” response, including legal action.
The feud highlights the pitfalls of brands trying to satisfy polarized political opinions. The problem is compounded with Unilever, which agreed to give Ben & Jerry’s an unusual degree of independence when it acquired the brand in 2000.
The maker of Cookie Dough and Phish Food ice cream had announced the change Monday after years of pressure from activists, saying sales in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were “inconsistent with our values” and it would withdraw if a deal were signed. with a local distributor will expire in 2022.
Settlements in the areas, conquered by the Jewish state in 1967, are considered illegal by most of the world, but have been defended by Bennett.
Bennett said: “This decision is morally wrong and I believe it will become clear that it is also commercially wrong.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, said he would ask US states that have passed legislation against the anti-Settlement Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign to take legal action against Ben & Jerry’s for an “embarrassing indulgence in anti-Semitism.” “.
When Unilever was criticized by the Israeli government, it also fought its own subsidiary over the manner and details of the announcement. Ben & Jerry’s has an independent board of directors, whose role was enshrined in the deal struck when the British group acquired the Vermont-based ice cream maker more than two decades ago.
The board said the announcement attributed to Ben & Jerry’s was made by Unilever without its consent, “contrary to the spirit and letter of the acquisition agreement”. While it correctly stated that Ben & Jerry’s intended to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, the Ben & Jerry’s board complained about an explicit reference, added by Unilever, to continuing to sell ice cream in Israel. No such decision had been made, a board member told NBC.
Unilever said in a separate statement Monday that it is “completely committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and businesses for decades”. Further questions were not immediately answered.
The company has been operating in Israel since 1938, when the area remained under British control, and has four manufacturing sites there, according to Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry.
The consumer goods industry had viewed Ben & Jerry’s deal with Unilever as a groundbreaking example of a brand known for strong ethical stances and maintained that emphasis even when sold to a multinational. The independent board of directors has the power to veto actions that could affect its social mission and “brand integrity” issues, such as trademarks.
Ben & Jerry’s has strongly supported the Black Lives Matter movement, and last year stood before Unilever by joining a boycott of Facebook ads as a protest against racist and hateful content.