MONTPELIER, Vt. — Ben and Jerry’s said Monday that it will cease selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem, citing “inconsistent with our values” sales in the Palestinian-claimed regions.
The declaration was one of the most forceful and high-profile rebukes of Israel’s strategy of establishing its citizens on war-won territory ever made by a major corporation. The international world considers the settlements to be unlawful and a barrier to peace.
According to a statement posted on the Vermont-based firm’s website, the company notified its longstanding licensee — responsible for manufacturing and distributing the ice cream in Israel — that the licensing agreement would not be renewed when it ends at the end of next year.
“The concerns raised with us by our fans and trusted partners,” Ben & Jerry’s said in a statement.
Although Ben & Jerry’s did not expressly address these issues, a group called Vermonters for Justice in Palestine called on the business to “stop involvement in Israel’s occupation and abuses of Palestinian human rights” last month.
“How much longer will Ben & Jerry’s allow its Israeli-made ice cream to be sold in Jewish-only settlements while Palestinian land is confiscated, Palestinian homes are destroyed, and Palestinian families in neighborhoods like Sheik Jarrah face eviction to make way for Jewish settlers?” said Ian Stokes of the organization in a June 10 news release. An emailed request for comment was not immediately returned by the group.
Ben & Jerry’s, which was founded in Vermont in 1978 but is now controlled by consumer goods behemoth Unilever, has never shied away from social issues. While many businesses avoid politics for fear of alienating customers, the ice cream company has taken the opposite tack, frequently advocating for progressive causes.
In 2018, before the midterm elections, Ben & Jerry’s rebranded one of its flavors Pecan Resist to protest what it considered the Trump administration’s regressive policies.
Pecan Resist, according to the business, honors activists who fight oppression, bad environmental practices, and injustice. Ben & Jerry’s announced a $25,000 donation to four activist groups as part of the campaign.
On Twitter, Israeli politician Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint List of Arab Parties said Ben and Jerry’s move on Monday was “appropriate and decent.” She went on to say that the “occupied territories are not part of Israel,” and that the action is a crucial step in pressuring Israel to cease the occupation.
During the 1967 Mideast conflict, Israel took control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Approximately 700,000 Israeli settlers dwell in the two areas, with 500,000 in the occupied West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem.
Israel considers east Jerusalem to be part of its capital and treats the two regions independently. Israel, on the other hand, regards the West Bank as a contested area whose status should be decided via discussions. Both territories, however, are considered occupied territories by the international world. The Palestinians want the West Bank to be part of an independent state in the future, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Despite the fact that Ben & Jerry’s goods will not be sold in the settlements, the firm will continue to operate in Israel under a separate agreement.
“There is no reason to buy products from firms who boycott hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens because of the area they chose to live,” the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization representing the roughly 500,000 Israelis residing in West Bank settlements, stated. It said that Ben & Jerry’s move had “introduced a negative attitude to such a lovely industry,” and urged Israelis to buy ice cream made in Israel this summer.
The decision was dubbed “a disgraceful concession to antisemitism, BDS, and everything awful in the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric” by Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid. He stated that he will take the issue to the more than 30 states that have passed legislation prohibiting anti-Israel boycotts.
BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, which is a Palestinian-led grassroots movement that promotes boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israeli institutions and corporations. The BDS movement has been compared to the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa throughout the twentieth century, and its peaceful message has resonated with progressives all around the world. However, Israel claims that the movement is concealing a larger goal of delegitimizing or possibly destroying the country.
The BDS movement, for its part, praised Ben & Jerry’s decision as “a major start toward removing the company’s participation in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights,” but urged it to go farther.
“We hope Ben & Jerry’s has realized that, in keeping with its social justice convictions, there can be no business as usual with apartheid Israel,” said the statement.