Ben & Jerry's Independent Board of Directors wanted to boycott Israel in its entirety, but was stopped from doing so by the ice-cream maker's CEO and the British-based parent company Unilever.
"The statement released by Ben & Jerry's regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territory does not reflect the position of the Independent Board nor was it approved by the Independent Board," read a statement by Ben & Jerry's Independent Board of Directors.
It was posted on social media, including on the Twitter page of board chairwoman Anuradha Mittal.
The famous ice cream company that originated in the US state of Vermont made headlines on Monday when it announced plans to boycott "the Occupied Palestinian Territory," generally presumed in this context to mean West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.
To achieve this goal, it plans to end its contract in December 2022 with the local Israeli franchise of Ben & Jerry's, which has operated in the Jewish state for close to 35 years.
Unilever has clarified that it plans to continue sales to areas of Israel within the pre-1967 lines, but would do so with a different local company.
Avi Zinger, owner of the Israeli Ben & Jerry's franchise, who always sold his ice cream on both sides of the Green Line, has for years resisted pressure by the parent company to boycott West Bank settlements.
But he ultimately has no control over the decision by Unilever, which has owned the global ice cream company since 2000.
Zinger told The Jerusalem Post he hopes the government of Israel and a persistent public campaign would sway Unilever to change its mind.
"The government of Israel cannot afford for this [the boycott] to happen," Zinger said. "When you mix politics with ice cream, you do not know where it will stop."
Unilever Israel has also clarified that it has no connection to the boycott call issued by the global company.
PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett spoke with Unilever CEO Alan Jope on Tuesday and explained that he viewed such an "anti-Israel step" with the "utmost gravity."
Bennett "emphasized that from the perspective of the State of Israel, this is an action that has severe consequences, including legal ones, and it will take strong action against any boycott directed against its citizens," according to a statement issued by his office.
But in an interview with NBC, Mittal said that Unilever had overstepped its authority by pledging to remain in Israel.
"It is stunning that they can say that when the statement was put out without the approval of the board," she said.
She explained that under the terms of Unilever's purchase agreement, an independent Board of Directors retains control over decisions relating to the company's social mission and branding. Ben & Jerry's is famous for tackling social issues.
In contesting the Unilever decision, the board posted the original text of its boycott message.
"We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry's ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestine Territory," read the board's original statement.
"We have a longstanding agreement with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region.
"The Company will not renew the license agreement when it expires next year," the board said. "We have always been led by our values and remain committed to being a social justice company."
There was no mention in that original statement of an intent to remain in Israel. But the press release about the boycott that appeared on both of the global companies Unilever and Ben & Jerry's web pages spoke of a commitment to doing business with Israel, outside of the "occupied Palestinian Territory."
The one on the Ben & Jerry's site stated that although the ice cream would "no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready."
The Ben & Jerry's board said that it had the sole authority to make such a decision and that it had not done so.
"The Acquisition Agreement [with Unilever] grants the Independent Board [authority] on an issue directly related to Ben & Jerry's social mission and brand integrity," the board said. "Unilever and its CEO at Ben & Jerry's are in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Acquisition Agreement."
THE BEN & Jerry's decision continued to set off a storm of diplomatic, political, business and consumer reactions on Tuesday.
Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States Gilad Erdan, who is currently in Israel, sent a letter to the governors of 35 American states reminding them that the boycott "violates the anti-BDS laws of many states, including the law of your own great state."
"Rapid and determined action must be taken to counter such discriminatory and antisemitic actions," Erdan wrote. "We must stand united and send an unequivocal message that this will not be tolerated."
The Ben & Jerry's boycott, he said, is contrary to the spirit of the 2020 Abraham Accords under which Israel normalized ties with four Arab nations, he wrote.
"As Arab nations cancel their decades-long boycott of the Jewish state and sign peace agreements with Israel, and cultural and economic cooperation in our region is growing, American companies with radical ideological agendas cannot be allowed to go against the policy of the United States and act against normalization and peace," the ambassador wrote.
"Moreover, the past has proven that the citizens of Israel are never the only ones who suffer from such boycotts as these significantly harm Palestinians as well. For example, in the supermarkets in Judea and Samaria where Ben & Jerry’s products are sold, both Israelis and Palestinians work and shop," Erdan wrote.
In New York, the Morton Williams Supermarket chain decided to reduce its sales of Ben & Jerry by 70%, while in New Jersey, Glatt Express Supermarket and Cedar Market halted sales all together.
"Our supermarkets have taken action against Ben & Jerry’s, which is boycotting Jewish communities that are at the center of a territorial dispute in Israel, including the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem – inhabited by Jews for over 3,000 years," tweeted supermarket co-owner Avi Kaner.
ON THE ISRAELI political front, parliamentarians and ministers turned to satire to dig in their points – although confusion reigned over whether boycotting Ben & Jerry's as a protest vote is something that should be done abroad but not in Israel where the local franchise owner supports sales to Judea and Samaria.
Joint List Party head and MK Aymen Odeh, who supports the boycott, posted a photo of himself eating Ben & Jerry's, noting that "his diet had been going great until now."
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that a boycott starts with a West Bank settlement such as his home community of Nokdim and ends with cities in Israel such as Tel Aviv. Liberman adapted the famous adage of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, noting that the "fate of Nokdim is the fate of Tel Aviv."
He posted a photograph of himself eating a vanilla ice cream cone with a spoon, stating, "I have already ordered another ice cream – one that is not boycotting and is much tastier."
Pundits and satirical sites also used the ice cream container and Ben & Jerry's tradition of unusual ice cream flavors to bash the boycott.
The Babylon Bee issued a satire tweeted to highlight the antisemitic element of the boycott stating "Ben And Jerry's Introduces Fun New Flavor 'Push The Jews Into The Sea Salt And Caramel."
In a satirical article, it continued in the same dark comedy vein by writing that: "All proceeds will go to Iranian rocket manufacturers to arm noble Hamas mujahideen warriors in their fight to destroy the Jews."