The move gives a boost to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which for the last decade has targeted the global company
that began in Vermont and is now owned by Unilever.
The group Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine had been particularly active on the issue.
It a statement titled “Success,” BDS said the decision was a “decisive step toward ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violation of Palestinian rights.”
Ben & Jerry’s, known for taking a stand on social-justice issues, clarified that it was not boycotting Israel, just the “occupied Palestinian territories.”
It said it would maintain its sales relationship with areas of Israel within the pre-1967 borders.
“Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement,” it said. “We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.”
The announcement was immediately rebuffed by Ben & Jerry’s Israel, which announced it would continue to sell in all of Israel.
The global organization has now decided not to renew its agreement with its Israeli licensee over this issue, with the contract between them set to expire in a year and a half, it explained.
“We call on the Israeli government and the consumers not to allow Israel to be boycotted,” Ben & Jerry’s Israel announced on Twitter.
“This is an unprecedented move by Unilever,” the Israeli licensee said, adding that ice cream and politics should not be mixed.
Unilever Israel clarified that it had no involvement in this decision, which was made by Ben & Jerry’s globally and its independent board of directors.
“We are very proud of our history in Israel and are fully committed to our long-term presence,” it said. “We employ around 2,000 employees, the majority of which are in our factories in Arad, Acre, Safed and Haifa. In the last decade alone, the company has invested in the Israeli market more than NIS 1 billion, and will continue to invest in its people, brands and business in the local market.”
The global parent company of Unilever said: “We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades.
“Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognized the right of the brand and its independent board to take decisions about its social mission. We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel.”
The boycott announcement created an immediate political storm, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid responding.
“There are many ice cream brands, but only one Jewish state,” Bennett said.
“Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as the anti-Israel ice cream,” he added. “This decision is morally wrong and I believe that it will become clear that it is also commercially wrong.
“The boycott against Israel – a democracy surrounded by islands of terrorism – reflects a total loss of way,” Bennett said. “The boycott does not work and will not work, and we will fight it with full force.”
Lapid called the boycott a “shameful surrender to antisemitism, to BDS and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.”
“We will not be silent,” he added.
“Over 30 states in the United States have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent years,” Lapid said. “I plan on asking each of them to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s. They will not treat the State of Israel like this without a response.”
But not all the coalition members were opposed to Ben & Jerry’s decision.
“Once again, Israel is harmed by the immorality of the settlements in the occupied territories,” Meretz MK Mossi Raz said. “Of course, there are those who are not willing to sell [Ben & Jerry’s ice cream] in settlements that are illegal and immoral, and it is a pity that all Israelis are harmed by their existence.”
The boycott language the global Ben & Jerry’s used was vague in that it referenced the “occupied Palestinian territories” and did not mention the words “settlements” or “east Jerusalem.” But the assumption can be made that these are the territories being referred to.
Ben & Jerry’s said in a statement: “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners. We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region.
“We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.”
One resident of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement who did not want to be named said he was disappointed by the announcement, but it would not cause him to boycott Ben & Jerry’s in return.
“It’s the best ice cream you can get in stores here by far,” he said. “I’ll just buy my New York Chunk Fudge in Jerusalem and smuggle it back home past all the checkpoints.”
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu quipped, “Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy.”