Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has told the head of Unilever that Israel will “act aggressively” against Ben & Jerry’s over the subsidiary’s decision to stop selling its ice-cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested East Jerusalem.
The British consumer goods conglomerate Unilever acquired the Vermont-based ice cream company in 2000. Ben & Jerry’s said on Monday it had informed its longstanding licensee – responsible for manufacturing and distributing the ice cream in Israel – that it will not renew the licence agreement when it expires at the end of 2022.
Bennett’s office said that he spoke to the Unilever chief executive, Alan Jope, about what he called Ben & Jerry’s “clearly anti-Israel step”, adding that the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise, and that it will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens”.
The announcement was one of the highest-profile company rebukes of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war. These settlements are illegal under international law and are widely seen as an impediment to peace with the Palestinians.
Approximately 700,000 Israelis now live in settlements, about 500,000 in the occupied West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem. Israel considers the entirety of Jerusalem its capital, while the Palestinians seek it as the capital of a future state.
Ben & Jerry’s said the sale of its ice-cream in territories sought by the Palestinians for an independent state was “inconsistent with our values”.
Israel’s foreign ministry criticised the decision on Monday as “a surrender to ongoing and aggressive pressure from extreme anti-Israel groups” and said the company was cooperating with “economic terrorism”.
Avi Zinger, the chief executive of Ben & Jerry’s Israel licensee, told the public broadcaster Kan on Tuesday that the parent company had long pressed him to cease distribution in Israeli-occupied territories but he refused because it would violate Israeli law.
He called Ben & Jerry’s decision to not extend its licence “the biggest accomplishment” of the BDS movement that advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israeli institutions and businesses in a nonviolent campaign against Israeli abuses of Palestinians.