Ben & Jerry's may lose US kashrut renewal over settler boycott  

The Kof-K can only break its contract with Ben & Jerry's if there is a violation of the Jewish dietary laws and no such violation has occurred.

 An ice cream assembly line at the Ben & Jerry's factory near Kiryat Malachi, July 2021 (photo credit: FLASH90)
An ice cream assembly line at the Ben & Jerry's factory near Kiryat Malachi, July 2021
(photo credit: FLASH90)

The Kof-K kosher certification agency may not renew Ben & Jerry’s certificate if the global ice cream company makes good on its plan to boycott West Bank settlements.

“We have told Ben & Jerry’s that we do not know if we will be able to renew our contract,” Rabbi Daniel Senter, chief operating officer of the American-based Kof-K that provides Kosher international certification, told The Jerusalem Post.

At issue is whether Ben & Jerry’s in the US will continue to receive a kosher certification once the Kof-K’s contract with the Vermont-based ice cream company ends in 2022.

The Kof-K can only break this contract if there is a violation of the Jewish dietary laws, and no such violation has occurred, Senter explained.

“The company is living up to its side of the contract,” he stated.

 Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who founded Ben & Jerry's in 1978, spoke about the company's decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank in an interview with Axios released Sunday.  (credit: SCREENSHOT VIA JTA) Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who founded Ben & Jerry's in 1978, spoke about the company's decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank in an interview with Axios released Sunday. (credit: SCREENSHOT VIA JTA)

The Kof-K, however, is weighing whether to refuse to renew the contract due to the decision made in July by Ben & Jerry’s independent board not to renew its business dealings with the Israeli ice cream franchise once the contract ends in December 2022. The Ben & Jerry’s board said it had taken this step due to sales by the Israeli franchise to Jewish stores in east Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.

The Ben & Jerry’s factory itself is located in southern Israel, and does not have a factory in the West Bank or east Jerusalem.

“Our concern is Ben & Jerry’s [pending] action of withdrawing distribution of products in Judea and Samaria,” Senter said. “We are hopeful that Ben & Jerry’s will reverse their decision and that there will be some sort of resolution.”

 Rabbi Daniel Senter, Rabbi Ari Senter, Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana and Yigal Dilmoni, Yesha council head.  (credit: YESHA COUNCIL) Rabbi Daniel Senter, Rabbi Ari Senter, Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana and Yigal Dilmoni, Yesha council head. (credit: YESHA COUNCIL)

The Kof-K has spoken to Ben & Jerry’s about its concerns, Senter said. He said that the Kof-K would have to take a number of steps prior to any final action, including a decision by its rabbinic board. It would also consult with other regulatory companies that certify kosher food.

As part of its deliberations, both he and his brother Ari, who is the Kof-K’s senior rabbinic coordinator, were in Israel last week on a trip organized by Yesha Council CEO Yigal Dilmoni.

They met with Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana about Ben & Jerry’s, and traveled to Judea and Samaria, where they spoke with Dilmoni and Avi Zimmerman, president of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce.

The two brothers also visited the Barkan Industrial Park where both Israelis and Palestinians work. They spoke with employees there to see firsthand the companies that are impacted by the BDS movement.

Dilmoni said he had been in contact with the Kof-K to “exhaust all possibilities to stop Ben & Jerry’s shameful decision to boycott Jews in Judea and Samaria. The brothers are very connected to the land of Israel, and they also strongly oppose the boycotts of the Judea and Samaria area. We presented to them the fact that the boycott decision is an anti-Jewish decision.”

Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, have attempted to downplay the decision, which many have interpreted as a boycott of Israel.

Both companies have said they would open another Israeli Ben & Jerry’s franchise that would abide by the restriction to limit sales within the pre-1967 lines, but to date, no announcement has been made about an alternative.

The decision to end Ben & Jerry’s dealing with Israel was taken by Ben & Jerry’s independent board, which controls the company’s social mission, and which has made clear that it intends to boycott Israel over the settlement issue.

Senter said his company also feels it has a social mission, but in this case it is a Jewish one.

“Our entire business is the Jewish community,” Senter said. The best interest of the Kof-K, in this case, “reflects what is in the best interest of Israel and the Jewish community.”

The question of whether to strip a company of its kosher certification for reasons other than whether its food meets that standard is part of a larger debate on whether social, political and moral issues should be a consideration.

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, who heads the Ethics Center at the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in Israel, said he is opposed to the Ben & Jerry’s boycott, and understands the emotions that have swirled around it.

But at the same time, Cherlow said, he is also against looking at the issuance of a kashrut certificate from any other lens than that of the legal requirement under Jewish law.

Otherwise, he said, “it is a slippery slope” that opens the door to many questions, including whether a kashrut certificate should be stripped from a hall that hosts a secular New Year’s event on December 31; or whether a meat plant that mistreats animals be deemed kosher, or a supermarket or a restaurant that mistreats its employees.

“Once you start to take off kashrut certification for different reasons, you do not know where you will stop,” Cherlow said. “In principle, there is nothing that does not have limits. Maybe boycotting Israel is crossing that line.”

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer stated on Thursday that he had a productive meeting with Unilever CEO Alan Jope on the decision to halt sales in the West Bank.

"As investment advisor to the New York City pension funds, I underscored the potential for the risk that this decision creates for shareholders and as a Jew, I reiterated my opposition to BDS actions...I will continue engaging and monitoring this situation for any impact on the retirement security of our pensioners," said Stringer on Twitter.

Jope affirmed Unilever's full commitment to Israel and opposition to BDS.