The Israeli prime minister has warned Unilever chief executive of “grave consequences” after his brand Ben & Jerry announced plans to stop selling ice in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Naftali Bennett, an ultranationalist who took office in June, called Unilever executive director Alan Jope on Tuesday and told them that Unilever had taken a “clearly anti-Israel step” that would be greeted with a “strong” response. including legal action.
The sput highlights the traps of brands seeking to satisfy polarized political opinions. The problem is compounded by Unilever, which agreed to give Ben & Jerry’s an unusual amount of independence when it acquired the brand in 2000.
Ice maker Cookie Dough and Phish Food announced the change Monday after years of pressure from activists, saying sales in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were “inconsistent with our values” and would withdraw when a deal with a local distributor expires in 2022.
Settlements in the territories, which were seized by the Jewish state in 1967, are considered illegal by most of the world but have been defended by Bennett.
Bennett said: “This decision is morally wrong and I believe it will become clear that it is also commercially wrong.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, has said he is asking the United States to pass legislation against the Boycott, Assignment, Anti-Settlement Sanctions campaign to take legal action against to Ben & Jerry for a “shame given to anti-Semitism.”
As Unilever has been exploited by the Israeli government, it is also at odds with its own subsidiary over the manner and details of the announcement. Ben & Jerry’s has an independent board, whose role was outlined in the deal made when the British group acquired the Vermont-based ice maker more than two decades ago.
The council said the announcement attributed to Ben & Jerry’s was made by Unilever without its consent, “in violation of the spirit and letter of the purchase agreement.” Although he correctly stated that Ben & Jerry’s intended to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, Ben & Jerry’s adviser complained about an explicit reference, added by Unilever, to the continued sale of ice in Israel. Such a decision had not been made, a board member told NBC.
Unilever said in a separate statement on Monday that it was “fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have been investing in our people, brands and businesses for many decades.” He did not immediately answer further questions.
The company has been operating in Israel since 1938, when the area remained under British control, and has four manufacturing sites there, according to the Ministry of Economy and Industry.
The consumer goods industry had considered Ben & Jerry’s agreement with Unilever as a tracing example of a brand known for strong ethical stances that maintain its focus even when it was sold to a multinational. Its independent board has the power to veto actions that could influence its social mission and “brand integrity” issues such as brands.
Ben & Jerry’s strongly supported the Black Lives Matter movement and acted in front of Unilever last year in a boycott of Facebook advertising in a protest against racist and hateful content.