Unilever beats lawsuit against Ben & Jerry's boycott of Israel

Unilever did not mislead investors by not disclosing Ben & Jerry's decision to boycott the West Bank, a Manhattan federal court said.

Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Illustrative) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Illustrative)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A Manhattan federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Unilever on Tuesday that claimed the company misled US investors by not immediately disclosing a decision by its Ben & Jerry's unit to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank and parts of east Jerusalem.

A Michigan pension fund sued in June 2022, seeking damages for a drop in Unilever shares after Ben & Jerry's announced in July 2021 that it would stop sales in the West Bank and parts of east Jerusalem.

US District Judge Lorna Schofield ruled on Tuesday that Unilever was not required to disclose the boycott when Ben & Jerry's board decided on it in 2020 because Unilever had ultimate control over whether to implement it.

'Everything is good here in Israel'

Avi Zinger, owner of A.Q.P. - Ben & Jerry’s Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that the case between the Michigan pension fund and Unilever “has nothing to do with us” and that “everything is good here in Israel.”

He said that he was not familiar with the particular case and that his own company had come to an agreement with Unilever, so there was nothing new to discuss.

“Everyone loves Ben & Jerry’s in Israel. We are good and happy,” Zinger said. “As far as I am concerned, there is no news.”

Ben & Jerry's social mission

While Ben & Jerry's board oversees its social mission, Unilever retained authority over financial and operational decisions when it bought the ice cream company in 2000.

Schofield said the delay in announcing the board's resolution was likely "to determine what, if anything, to do about it."

Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Illustrative) (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ben & Jerry's ice cream (Illustrative) (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

An attorney representing the pension fund for fire and police in the Michigan community of St. Clair Shores and a Unilever spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The pension fund had sought damages for those who held Unilever American depositary receipts in July 2021, when they fell after several US states reviewed their relationships with the British consumer goods company and some Jewish groups accused Ben & Jerry's of antisemitism.

Founded in 1978, Ben & Jerry's has long positioned itself as socially conscious. It said in July 2021 that selling ice cream in the West Bank and east Jerusalem was "inconsistent with our values."

Many countries consider Israeli settlements in those territories illegal, which Israel disputes. In 2022, Unilever sold its interest in Ben & Jerry's operations in Israel.

The Vermont-based ice cream maker sued to block the sale. The companies settled the dispute in December.

The case is City of St. Clair Shores Police and Fire Retirement System v. Unilever Plc et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-05011.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.