Ben & Jerry’s said Monday it was going to stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying the sales in the territories are “inconsistent with our values".
The announcement was one of the strongest and highest-profile rebukes by a well-known company of Israel’s policy of allowing settlements, which are widely seen by the international community as illegal and obstacles to peace.
The Vermont, US, ice cream maker says it recognises “the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners".
“We have a long-standing partnership with our licencee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region,” the company said.
“We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licencee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.”
The statement did not explicitly identify the concerns raised, but last month, a group called Vermonters for Justice in Palestine called on Ben & Jerry’s to “end complicity in Israel’s occupation and abuses of Palestinian human rights".
“How much longer will Ben & Jerry’s permit its Israeli-manufactured ice cream to be sold in Jewish-only settlements while Palestinian land is being confiscated, Palestinian homes are being destroyed and Palestinian families in neighbourhoods like Sheikh Jarrah are facing eviction to make way for Jewish settlers?” the organisation’s Ian Stokes said on June 10.
The organisation did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett condemned Ben & Jerry's decision.
"There are many ice cream brands, but only one Jewish state. Ben & Jerry's has decided to brand itself as the anti-Israel ice cream," Mr Bennett said.
"This decision is morally wrong and I believe that it will become clear that it is also commercially wrong."
Founded in Vermont in 1978, but owned by consumer goods conglomerate Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s has not shied away from social causes.
While many businesses tread lightly in politics for fear of alienating customers, the ice cream maker has taken the opposite approach, often espousing progressive causes.
The West Bank and East Jerusalem were captured by Israel in the 1967 war. About 700,000 Israeli settlers now live in the two territories — about 500,000 in the occupied West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
Israel treats the two areas separately, considering East Jerusalem to be part of its capital. Israel also considers the West Bank to be disputed territory, the fate of which should be resolved in negotiations.
But the international community considers both areas to be occupied territory, and the Palestinians seek the West Bank as part of a future independent state, with East Jerusalem as their capital.
While Ben & Jerry’s products will not be sold in the settlements, the company will stay in Israel through a different arrangement.
“There’s no need to buy products from companies that boycott hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens because of the place they choose to live,” said the Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing the Israelis living in West Bank settlements.
It said Ben & Jerry’s decision “brought a bad spirit to such a sweet industry”, and called on Israelis to buy locally produced ice cream this summer.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the decision “a shameful capitulation to anti-Semitism, [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] and everything bad in the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.”
Mr Lapid said he was going to take the issue to the more than 30 states that have legislation against the anti-Israel boycott movement.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement applauded Ben & Jerry’s decision as “a decisive step towards ending the company’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of Palestinian rights”, but called on the company to do more.
“We hope that Ben & Jerry’s has understood that, in harmony with its social justice commitments, there can be no business as usual with apartheid Israel,” the movement said.