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Ben & Jerry’s renews efforts to block sale to Israeli affiliate

Ice-cream maker's board says sale harms its social image after it lost its earlier legal effort against its parent company
Unilever announced it had sold its business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger, the owner of Ben & Jerry’s Israel (AFP/File photo)

Ben & Jerry’s is making a new push to block Unilever, its parent company, from selling its assets to an Israeli firm.

The ice-cream maker will confirm as early as Tuesday that it plans to file a revised complaint in New York federal court in the coming weeks, Bloomberg reported, citing two sources familiar with the matter.

In July of last year, Ben & Jerry's said its commercial operations in the occupied West Bank were "inconsistent" with its values and that it would not be renewing its licence agreement when it would expire at the end of the following year.

Ben & Jerry’s board wants to stop its business interests in Israel from being sold to Avi Zinger's American Quality Products, the current Israeli licensee of the ice cream brand.

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The move led to backlash from pro-Israeli groups and prompted Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, to announce it would sell the ice-cream maker's business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger's American Quality Products, the current Israeli licensee of the brand.

Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry's in 2000, but under a unique governing agreement, the board retained the right to oversee the company’s social mission, which it now says is violated by the sale.  

Last month, US District Judge Andrew L Carter Jr denied Ben & Jerry’s request for an injunction to block the sale, saying that the ice-creamer maker had failed to show it would suffer irreparable harm if the deal proceeded.

Ben & Jerry’s board says it has a responsibility to continue fighting the sale in court in order to protect its social mission, a spokesperson told Bloomberg in a statement. “We will not allow our principles to be compromised for our parent company’s profits.”

“Unilever’s feigned ignorance of the independent board’s authority over Ben & Jerry’s social mission stands in stark contrast with the explicit language of the merger agreement,” Ben & Jerry’s attorney, Shahmeer Halepota, said in an emailed statement.

The move was welcomed by rights groups. Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said they "firmly supported" the ice cream makers board.

"Committing to social justice means justice for all, including the Palestinian people. Ben & Jerry’s made a principled decision not to profit from illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and now Unilever is attempting to subvert that."

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