Naftali Bennett, an ultra-nationalist who took office in June, called Unilever chief executive Alan Jope on Tuesday and told him that Unilever had taken a “clearly anti-Israel step” that would elicit a “strong” response, including including legal action.
The spat highlights the pitfalls of brands trying to satisfy polarized political opinions. The problem is compounded at Unilever, which agreed to give Ben & Jerry’s unusual independence when it acquired the brand in 2000.
Ice cream maker Cookie Dough and Phish Food announced the change on Monday after years of pressure from activists, saying sales in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were “incompatible with our values” and that it would step down if agreed with a local distributor. expires in 2022.
Settlements in the territories, which were captured by the Jewish state in 1967, are considered illegal by most countries around the world, but were defended by Bennett.
Bennett said: “This move is morally wrong and I think it will become clear that it is also commercially wrong. “
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, has said he will call on US states that have passed legislation against the anti-colony Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign to take legal action against Ben & Jerry’s for a “shameful surrender to anti-Semitism”.
While Unilever was lambasted by the Israeli government, it was also battling its own affiliate over the manner and details of the announcement. Ben & Jerry’s has an independent board of directors, the role of which was enshrined in the deal struck when the British group acquired the Vermont-based ice cream maker more than two decades ago.
The board said the announcement attributed to Ben & Jerry’s was made by Unilever without its consent, “in violation of the spirit and the letter of the acquisition agreement.” Although it correctly stated that Ben & Jerry’s intended to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Ben & Jerry’s board complained about an explicit reference, added by Unilever, to the pursuit of selling ice cream in Israel. No such decision has been made, a board member told NBC.
Unilever said in a separate statement Monday that it was “fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have been investing in our people, our brands and our business for several decades.” He did not immediately respond to further questions.
The company has been operating in Israel since 1938, when the region remained under British control, and has four manufacturing sites there, according to Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry.
The consumer goods industry had viewed Ben & Jerry’s deal with Unilever as a pioneering example of a brand known for its strong ethical stances retaining that focus even though it was sold to a multinational. Its independent board of directors has the power to veto actions that could affect its social mission and “brand integrity” issues such as trademarks.
Ben & Jerry’s has been a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and took action in front of Unilever last year by joining a boycott of Facebook advertising to protest racist and hateful content.