After facing public pushback, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has announced it will no longer be selling its ice cream in Israel-occupied Palestinian territories. “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” the company said in a statement. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.” The company said it has declined to renew its licensing agreement, which expires at the end of next year, with its distributor in the region.
With the recent 11-day war between Israel and Palestine resulting in over 250 mostly-Palestinian casualties and thousands of Palestinians being displaced from their homes, many have turned their attention to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. The movement aims to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law,” over what the Human Rights Watch calls Israel’s “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” against Palestine.
Ben & Jerry’s is known not just for its ice cream, but for the company’s commitment to social justice. The company was founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978, and though it’s been owned by Unilever since 2000, it continues to espouse a socially-conscious ethos. In the past few years, the company released a flavor dedicated to progressive Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, declared its support for Black Lives Matter, and encouraged Austin voters to say no to a proposition that would essentially criminalize homeless encampments. “We are committed to honoring the rights of all people to live with liberty, security, self-esteem, and freedom of expression and protest, and to have the opportunity to provide for their own needs and contribute to society,” Ben & Jerry’s says in its values statement.
So for many, having a factory in Israel and distributing ice cream in Palestine’s Israeli settlements flew in the face of the company’s stated mission. “If Ben & Jerry’s wants to profit off anti-racist messaging,” wrote the Instagram account @decolonizeburlington, “they need to be consistent...It’s time for Ben & Jerry’s to divest from their holdings in Israel.” Many also noted the company, which regularly posts about social justice causes on social media, had been silent since the May attacks on Gaza.
Though the company is extracting itself from the settlements, it is stopping short of some calls to leave Israel entirely. “Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement,” said the company. “We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.”
In response to the decision, some Kosher grocery stores in the U.S. have decided to stop carrying Ben & Jerry’s, and Israel has vowed to “act aggressively” against the company. Furthermore, the decision has caused strife within the company, as it turns out the board of Ben & Jerry’s and parent company Unilever had differing opinions. Board chair Anuradha Mittal told NBC News they wanted to release a different statement that did not reference continued sales in Israel at all, and that reinforced the company’s commitment to social justice. “The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the OPT) does not reflect the position of the independent board, nor was it approved by the independent board,” the board said in a different statement. “By taking a position and publishing a statement without the approval of the independent board on an issue directly related to Ben & Jerry’s social mission and brand integrity, Unilever and its CEO at Ben & Jerry’s are in violation of the spirit and the letter of the acquisition agreement.” Mittal said continued sales in Israel would be subject to board approval.
Update: Wednesday July 21, 11:00 a.m.: This article has been updated to include new information about the response to Ben & Jerry’s initial statement.