Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sharply rebuked a decision by the American ice-cream giant Ben & Jerry's to halt sales in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank on Monday, saying that the company had decided to rebrand as an "antisemitic ice cream."
"There's plenty of ice cream, but we only have one country," Bennett said.
The Vermont-based ice-cream maker announced earlier on Monday that it will discontinue its contract with its Israeli licensee following "concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners."
"Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian territories], we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready," it added.
In his statement, Bennett called the company's decision "morally wrong," and said that he believes it will also prove to be "financially wrong." Bennett added: "The boycott of Israel – a democracy surrounded by isles of terrorism – reflects a complete loss of direction."
"The boycott isn't working and it won't work, and we will fight it with everything we've got," the prime minister said.
Ben & Jerry's, which launched in 1978, has long been associated with progressive values. But until now, Ben & Jerry’s had conspicuously refrained from weighing in on Israeli-Palestinian affairs. In June, the Ben & Jerry's social media accounts were bombarded with criticism for licensing a factory in Israel which provides Israeli settlements with products, and the accounts had remained silent until today.
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In 1988, the company opened its first Israeli store on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street. One year later, it opened a factory in Yavneh – which, surprisingly, was the company’s first production plant outside the United States. In 2009, the factory moved to Be’er Tuvia.
In 2014, the company began using fair-trade ingredients at its plant here, just as it does in the United States, and four years ago, it began making vegan ice cream.
The Israeli Ben & Jerry’s, the brand’s only independent licensee, is widely popular. It has produced special flavors for holidays, such as haroset for Passover and “mixed-up” for this spring’s national election, and last year held a Purim costume party whose prize was a six-month supply of ice cream.
In its statement, Ben & Jerry's also said: "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."
JTA contributed to this article.