Israel warns Unilever of 'serious consequences' from Ben & Jerry's withdrawal

Socially conscious ice cream brand said on Monday it would stop selling its products in occupied Palestinian territories

Tubs of Ben & Jerry's ice cream with the Fair Trade logo on sale in a shop in the UK. The company was bought by Unilever in a $326m deal in 2000. Reuters
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Israel's new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned UK-based consumer goods giant Unilever that it faced "serious consequences" after the Ben & Jerry's ice cream brand it owns said it is pulling out of the occupied Palestinian territories.

Mr Bennett said he had spoken to Unilever's chief executive Alan Jope about the "glaring anti-Israel measure" taken by the ice cream maker.

"From Israel's standpoint, this action has severe consequences, legal and otherwise, and it will move aggressively against any boycott measure targeting civilians," Mr Bennett told Unilever's boss, according to a statement from his office sent to the Reuters news agency.

In a tweet on Monday evening, Mr Bennett described Ben & Jerry's decision as morally wrong and a business mistake after the company said it will stop selling its products in occupied Palestinian territories as doing so is "inconsistent" with its brand values.

The Vermont, US, brand which was built on ethical values and whose products are marked with the Fair Trade logo, has faced pressure from Palestinian rights groups to stop selling its products in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

"We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory," a company statement released on Monday, said.

It added that it did not plan to renew an existing agreement with a licensee who manufactures its product when it expires at the end of next year, but that it would continue to sell ice cream in Israel "through a different agreement".

Unilever, which bought Ben & Jerry's in a $326 million deal back in 2000, said that as part of its acquisition agreement with the brand it recognised the right of its independent board "to take decisions about its social mission".

"We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry's will stay in Israel," the company added, saying it was also fully committed to its presence in the country.

However, the chair of Ben & Jerry's independent board, Anurudha Mittal, told the NBC news network that the statement issued on its behalf was not approved by its board of directors.

"It is stunning that they can say that [it will remain in Israel] when the statement was put out without the approval of the board," she said. “This is not about Israel. It is about the violation of the acquisition agreement that maintained the soul of the company.”

Updated: July 20, 2021, 1:05 PM