On Tuesday, Ben & Jerry’s sued its parent company Unilever to block the sale of its business interests in Israel. Unilever announced the sale on June 29, a move that was made over Ben & Jerry’s plans to stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a ban that was set to take effect at the end of this year.
In a complaint filed with the US District Court in Manhattan, Ben & Jerry’s said blocking the sale was necessary to “protect the brand and social integrity Ben & Jerry’s has spent decades building.” The ice cream company was sold to Unilever in 2000, but under the deal, Ben & Jerry’s board was to keep its independence.
In a statement, Unilever said it wouldn’t discuss pending litigation but added that “the deal has already closed.” Unilever sold Ben & Jerry’s business interests in Israel to the Israeli company American Quality Products (AQP), which acquired the exclusive rights to the brand’s logo in Hebrew and Arabic. AQP will have to cease using English branding.
AQP plans to continue selling ice cream in Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. When news of the sale first broke, Ben & Jerry’s said it didn’t agree with Unilever’s move. “We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Ben & Jerry’s wrote on Twitter.
Unilever’s decision to sell came after an enormous amount of pressure over the planned settlement ban, which Ben & Jerry’s announced in July 2021. Israeli officials reacted by launching a “maximum pressure” campaign and called on US governors of states with laws against boycotting Israel to take action.
Over 30 US states have laws on the books against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls for global boycotts to pressure Israel over its crimes against the Palestinians. Under the laws, the states can divest pension funds from companies that boycott Israel, although Ben & Jerry’s move was not a full boycott since the ban only applied to settlements.
Many states were quick to punish Unilever on behalf of Israel. Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Arizona, Florida, and Texas all took action against Unilever by moving to divest state pension funds from the British conglomerate.