Ben & Jerry’s Israel boycott row intensifies

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

El Rosado Group, which owns one of the largest supermarket chains in Ecuador, has withdrawn all Unilever ice creams from all its businesses. Pic: El Rosado Group
El Rosado Group, which owns one of the largest supermarket chains in Ecuador, has withdrawn all Unilever ice creams from all its businesses. Pic: El Rosado Group

Related tags ben & jerry's Unilever Ice cream Israel boycott

An Ecuadorian supermarket chain is the latest company to pull Unilever ice cream from its shelves, as it accuses Unilever of boycotting Israel.

Last week, Ben & Jerry’s, which is owned by Unilever, put out a statement that said the company believes it is inconsistent with its values “for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.

“We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.

“Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.”

El Rosado Group, which owns one of the largest supermarket chains in Ecuador with more than 180 stores around the country, has taken the decision to withdraw from all its businesses all ice cream manufactured by Unilever.

In a statement, Unilever said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very complex and sensitive situation.

“As a global company, Unilever’s brands are available in more than 190 countries and in all of them, our priority is to serve consumers with essential products that contribute to their health, wellbeing and enjoyment.

“We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades.

“Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognised the right of the brand and its independent board to take decisions about its social mission. We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel.”

Reaction has been polarized, with the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led grassroots campaign that promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities, welcoming the move but urging Ben & Jerry’s to go further and pull from Israel entirely.

The Israeli government has promised a ‘strong response,’ and as a part of this is urging US states to take action against Unilever.

Yair Lapid, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, tweeted, “Over 30 states in the United States have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent years. I plan on asking each of them to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry's. They will not treat the State of Israel like this without a response.”

Texas is one of the states looking into it.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar issued a statement last week saying he has directed staff to determine whether any specific action has been taken by Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever that would trigger a listing under Chapter 808 of the Texas Government Code.

“If it is determined that Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever has engaged in any activities proscribed under Chapter 808, my office will take all appropriate and required actions. Texas Government Code Chapter 808 defines "boycott Israel" as "refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or an Israeli-controlled territory”," ​Hegar said.

“As with any of our listing decisions, my office, in cooperation with our research providers, will carefully review statements and actions made by Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever to establish if either entity is a suitable candidate for the Texas list.

“Texans have made it very clear that they stand with Israel and its people. We oppose actions that could undermine Israel's economy and its people. I wish to thank Representative Phil King for his ongoing support of these efforts. My office has a long history of supporting Israel through our bond holdings and the Comptroller's list of scrutinized companies with ties to Iran, as well as those with ties to foreign terrorist organizations.”

And Hegar finished with a pop at the ice cream company.

“I would also note that Texans have better options for a sweet treat this summer. Blue Bell was founded in Brenham, Texas, and, for my money, tastes much better than the stuck-up stuff made by a foreign-owned company started in Vermont.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also called on the State Board of Administration (SBA) to immediately place Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on the Continued Examination Companies that Boycott Israel List and initiate the process to place both companies on the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List.

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