WASHINGTON – Ben & Jerry's sued its parent company, Unilever, on Tuesday to block the sale of the ice cream maker's business interests in Israel to an Israeli company.
Ben & Jerry's had distanced itself from Unilever following Unilever’s decision to sell its business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger, the current Israeli licensee of Ben & Jerry’s. The sale was to pave the way for a resumption of sales of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream products in the West Bank. The move came roughly a year after the company announced that it would end sales of ice cream in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
"It’s a done deal. Unilever chose the morally correct, socially just and principled path when it ensured that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream would always continue to be produced and sold in Israel and the West Bank," said Zinger's attorney Alyza D. Lewin, who added that he "stands arm in arm with Unilever and commends Unilever’s decision to forcefully defend its agreement with him."
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan said the sale announced last week threatened to undermine Ben & Jerry's brand integrity, for which its board retained independence to protect when the Unilever conglomerate acquired it in 2000.
According to the complaint filed Tuesday, an injunction against transferring the business and related trademarks to Zinger and his American Quality Products company was essential to "protect the brand and social integrity Ben & Jerry's has spent decades building."
"We are aware of the Unilever announcement. While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it," Ben & Jerry's said in a statement following Unilever's initial announcement. "Unilever's arrangement means Ben & Jerry's in Israel will be owned and operated by AQP. Our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry's in Israel. Ben & Jerry's," it continued, adding "we continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry's values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."
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The Vermont-based ice cream company, which launched in 1978, has long been associated with progressive values, but had largely avoided supporting the Palestinian cause until last summer, when last year's flare-up between Israel and Hamas grabbed headlines around the world. In July 2021, the company released a statement saying that it believed it was “inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and that while “Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement.”
In March, Zinger, the owner of the current Israel-based licensee, announced that his company was suing Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever in U.S. federal court. According to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, where Unilever has its U.S. headquarters, Zinger alleged that the decision by Ben & Jerry’s violated both U.S. and Israeli law. The suit sought an order permitting AQP to continue selling Ben & Jerry’s products unabated.