Ben & Jerry's Is Headed Back To Israel Under New Name Despite Objections

Ben & Jerry's parent company has reached a deal to resume sales of the iconic Vermont ice cream flavors throughout Israel and Palestine, despite the objections of the brand's management. According to The Guardian, Unilever (which Reuters reports acquired Ben & Jerry's in 2000) has agreed to sell the brand's Israeli business to its current Israeli distribution licensee, Avi Zinger. The deal would give Zinger's company, American Quality Products (AQP), the rights to sell Ben & Jerry's flavors with similar packaging and artwork, but without the famous Ben & Jerry's brand name or English-language flavor titles.

The Vermont-based ice cream brand has long boasted a history of activism, most recently lobbying congress for gun control reform after the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas (per CNBC). As such, Ben & Jerry's independent board declared it would stop selling its products in Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in July 2021 with the ice cream company founders' support, stating that doing business in the territories was "inconsistent with our values."

This decision came months after calls from Twitter for the brand to speak out on the matter following 11 days of conflict between Palestinian militants and the Israeli army in May 2021 (via Washington Post). According to The Intercept, the bombings killed 10 Israeli civilians and 192 Palestinian civilians, about one-third of whom were children. Human Rights Watch has accused both sides of war crimes but gave extra scrutiny to three Israeli bombings in areas containing no military targets.

Hot button issue

Following Ben & Jerry's decree to halt sales in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — territories Israel seized from Palestinian control in 1967, per The Guardian – conflict ensued. Several Jewish groups accused the ice cream brand of antisemitism, a claim NPR notes Ben & Jerry's founders (who are both Jewish) denied. Reuters reports that AQP sued the brand for threatening to not renew its distribution contract. Additionally, Unilever was sued by a group of its own shareholders for supporting Ben & Jerry's decision, since it led to several state governments divesting their pension funds from Unilever and devaluing their stocks.

By agreeing to sell the rights to the products without the Ben & Jerry's name to AQP, Unilever hopes to disentangle itself from the controversy since it will no longer be profiting from any sales in the disputed territories, nor preventing them — however, the Ben & Jerry's brand has expressed disapproval of the decision. The Guardian reports Ben & Jerry's issued a statement saying "while our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it. We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry's values for our [ice cream] to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

Final details of the sale, including the price and effective date, have not been revealed.