Unilever has sold its Ben & Jerry’s division in Israel to its local franchisee who will continue to sell the product under the famed brand name to customers in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Israeli government hailed the move as a “victory over anti-Semites” on Wednesday — months after the founders of the Vermont-based ice cream giant announced they would no longer sell the popular product to customers in Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
“The anti-Semites won’t defeat us,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement. “Even when it comes to ice cream. We will fight efforts to delegitimize Israel and the boycott movement in all its forms, whether it be economic, cultural, or philosophical.”
Avi Zinger, the owner of American Quality Products, the Israeli company that owned the licensing agreement to exclusively sell Ben & Jerry’s in Israel, paid an undisclosed sum of money to Unilever.
Zinger announced on Wednesday that he will resume sales of the Ben & Jerry’s brand in both Hebrew and Arabic throughout Israel proper as well as the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Israeli government makes no legal distinction between the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Israel proper. The international community does not recognize Israeli claims over land that it captured during the Six-Day War.
Earlier this year, Zinger filed a lawsuit in federal court against Ben & Jerry’s after the company refused to renew his license because he would not abide by its policy to halt sales of ice cream to Israeli settlements.
Ben and Jerry’s Jewish co-founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, sold their namesake company to Unilever in 2000 for $326 million.
As per the terms of the acquisition agreement, Ben & Jerry’s had autonomy when it came to taking decisions about its social mission.
But a Unilever spokesperson told The Post that the ice cream maker’s corporate parent had discretion to decide on restructuring or selling parts of the business.
The Post has sought comment from Ben & Jerry’s as well as Cohen and Greenfield.
Ben & Jerry’s announced last year that it would no longer sell its products in the West Bank and parts of disputed East Jerusalem when its current licensing agreement expires at the end of 2022.
Since then, the states of New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Texas have divested a combined $1 billion in pension fund investments from parent company Unilever, concluding Ben & Jerry’s action violated their anti-boycott laws.
Cohen and Greenfield defended the company’s decision to end sales in the region in a New York Times editorial last July, writing that Israel was one of the first countries that the company had expanded to internationally as it grew.
The founders, who called themselves “proud Jews,” said it is “possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies” just as they’ve “opposed policies in the US government.”