Ben & Jerry's sues Unilever to block sale of Israeli business
Ben & Jerry's on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against its parent company, Unilever, to block the sale of the ice cream maker's business interests in Israel to an Israeli company.
The complaint, filed in the US District Court of Manhattan, said the sale threatened to undermine Ben & Jerry's brand integrity. The ice cream maker's board had maintained independence to protect its interests when the Unilever conglomerate acquired it in 2000.
"Ben & Jerry’s is an American institution. An institution that is known for the principled, progressive stances it takes on various societal issues, both domestically and internationally," the company said in its court filing.
"This social integrity is as important to Ben & Jerry’s as the ice cream it makes, which it began producing in 1978."
Last week, Unilever announced that it would be selling Ben & Jerry's business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger's American Quality Products, the current Israeli licensee of the ice cream brand. The sale would effectively reverse a decision made by the company to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Following Unilever's announcement last week, Ben & Jerry's released a statement saying that it does "not agree with it".
"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 has long sought to portray itself as a supporter of liberal causes and has issued statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive movements on social media.
However, it went silent in May 2021 after Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip. Then in July 2021, the company released a statement saying it believed it was "inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory", but added that it would "stay in Israel through a different arrangement".
The announcement was received with praise and further questions from pro-Palestinian activists and advocates, but Israeli leaders met the news with scorn. Several US states also moved to divest from Unilever as a result of Ben & Jerry's decision.