Unilever has sold Ben and Jerry’s Israeli business to its Israeli licensee, one year after the American ice cream company announced that it would end sales in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). After a year of backlash, legal challenges, and Zionist lobbying, Ben and Jerry’s products will return to illegal settlements, in direct contradiction of the company’s will. In July 2021, when Ben and Jerry’s declared that selling in the oPt would be “inconsistent with [its] values,” the company also revealed that it would not be renewing its agreement with its Israel-based licensee at the end of the year.
Ben and Jerrys
This year was marked by a number of a political setbacks, but it also produced inspiring victories. As it comes to an end, we thought we’d take a look back on 2021. In addition to looking at Washington’s support for Israel’s violence, we wanted to take stock of what Palestine activists accomplished through their tireless work and unwavering commitment to human rights. 2021 kicked off with Joe Biden assuming the presidency. The former Senator has a long pro-Israel track record and his administration upheld that reputation right away. As usual there was the issue of image vs. reality. Israel supporters threw tantrums over the fact Biden didn’t call Netanyahu right away, but when it came down to it nearly every aspect of the “special relationship” stayed intact.
The US state of Arizona has taken the decision to punish Ben & Jerry's, one of America's most successful firms, for the company's boycott of illegal Israeli settlements. The global ice cream brand decided in July to end the sale of its products in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Although the decision was seen as a major victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a severe backlash from pro-Israel groups has been anticipated ever since. Kimberly Yee announced on Tuesday that Arizona State is disinvesting in Ben & Jerry's parent company Unilever, saying that the boycott decision was in violation of Arizona law. The state treasurer said that its investments in Unilever had been reduced from $143 million in June to $50 million and will drop to zero by 21 September.
For years, the Israeli government has viewed the boycott movement as a real, tangible threat. Some Israeli officials went as far as perceiving the ‘delegitimization’ resulting from the boycott campaign as the primary threat faced by Israel at the present time. Well attended conferences were held in Las Vegas, Brussels, Jerusalem and elsewhere, hundreds of millions of dollars raised, fiery speeches delivered, while politicians and ‘philanthropists’ lined up at many occasions, vowing their undying allegiance to Israel and accusing anyone who dare criticize the ‘Jewish State’ as ‘antisemitic’.
On Monday Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. The move comes after years of pressure from activists in the company’s home state of Vermont. “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.” “We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region,” it continues. “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.”
These are harrowing times for the nearly 1,500 migrant workers laboring on Vermont’s largest dairy farms. These farmworkers, predominantly from Mexico, are forced to live in the shadows, where their farm bosses harbor them in exchange for long hours, low wages, and cheap housing. It’s a human rights stain on the state, allowing these migrant workers to live and be treated this way. And it continues because there’s a whole lot of “looking away” from the deep-rooted ugliness of this system, which has been described by human rights advocates as “close to slavery.”