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The Ice Cream War of 2021

July 21, 2021

by: Janet Aslin

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Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in an Israeli shop

Wednesday, 21 July 2021 | When Ben & Jerry’s, a well-known and much-loved ice cream manufacturer, announced on Monday that it would “no longer distribute its products in the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory,’” the opening shot of this summer’s ice cream war was fired.

The global company went on to say that it would not be renewing the contract with its Israeli franchise holder when it expires at the end of 2022. It further stated that Ben & Jerry’s would stay in Israel through a “different arrangement,” the details of which would be revealed at a later date.

Responses were immediate, emphatic and perhaps a bit confusing. Generally speaking there are two sides in a war, but in our case, we can identify at least four parties: Ben & Jerry’s itself with parent company, Unilever; followed by the independent board of Ben & Jerry’s; Israel franchise holder Avi Zinger; and finally significant Israeli political figures who weighed in on the issue. We will look at each separately.

Ben & Jerry’s was founded in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont, by two childhood friends, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. In 2000, they sold their highly successful company to Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies. Unilever’s products are available in over 190 countries and used by 2.5 billion people every day. They are truly a global conglomerate, a super-power in the consumer marketplace.

However, when Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry’s, there was a special condition involved: an independent board of directors who would “retain control over decisions relating to the company’s social mission and branding.”

Anuradha Mittal, chairman of the board, fired the second shot of the war when she posted on the following statement on Twitter: “The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory does not reflect the position of the Independent Board nor was it approved by the Independent Board.”

In an interview on NBC, Mittal went on to say that Unilever had overstepped its authority “by pledging to remain in Israel.” Although they bear the same name, Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors and the company itself are on opposite sides in this war. As reported by the Jerusalem Post, “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.”

This brings us to the third party—Avi Zinger, who has owned and operated the Ben & Jerry’s franchise in Israel for the past 35 years. Unfortunately Zinger finds himself in a fight he did not start and stands to lose the business he has worked to build up. Ben & Jerry’s is a popular ice cream choice and has always been sold throughout the entire Land of Israel, on both sides of the so-called Green Line (armistice line when the cease-fire was established in 1948), dividing what the world calls the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) from Israel proper. The company employs both Jewish and Arab workers in two locations.

Although there are many calls to boycott Ben & Jerry’s product as a result of their impending action against Israel, Zinger urged people here to continue to buy his product. He told Kan radio that “it is important that people differentiate between the blue and white [Israeli] product and the international company.”

Finally, members of the Israeli government, from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid as well as Israel’s ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, have been quick to condemn both Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever in their plans to stop selling their ice cream.

Boycotts and threats of boycotts are nothing new in Israel. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has been very active in its attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel for the past twenty years. The movement was begun by Palestinian activists who sought to pressure Israel through economic means to withdraw from what they call the “occupied territory of the West Bank,” remove the security fence, enact the right of return for Palestinian refugees and other concessions. It has become a global lobby against the State of Israel and its right to exist.

BDS has suffered setbacks in the past years as, for example, 35 US states have made it illegal to boycott Israeli businesses. In his efforts, Ambassador Erdan has sent letters to the governors of each of these states, urging them to place sanctions upon Ben & Jerry’s operations because of their current actions.

This current boycott, a BDS war with ice cream at its center, does differ slightly from previous ones. In the past, BDS activists have targeted companies with manufacturing facilities in Judea and Samaria. This war boycotts the products sold in Judea and Samaria, since the locations where Ben & Jerry’s are made in Israel are not in what some call the “territories.”

At the end of the day, it does seem very sad and almost underhanded that ice cream should be the center of this attempt to delegitimize the State of Israel. In the words of Avi Zinger, “ice cream is not politics.”

Posted on July 21, 2021

Source: (Bridges for Peace, July 21, 2021)

Photo Credit: Uziel302/wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org

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