Tubs of ice-cream are seen as a laborer works at Ben & Jerry’s factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021.
Ronen Zvulun | Reuters
Unilever’s CEO Alan Jope told investors that the company remains committed to its businesses in Israel during a conference call on Thursday, after its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s announced earlier this week that it will stop the sale of its ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The ice cream maker, known for its left-leaning political stances, made the move after facing backlash online for its business in the occupied territories. Unilever’s CEO sought to distance the parent company from the decision, saying it was made independently by Ben & Jerry’s.
“Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel,” Jope said. “This was a decision that was taken by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board in line with an acquisition agreement that we signed 20 years ago.”
“I can assure you it is not our intent to regularly visit matters of this, where sensitivity has been a long-standing issue for Ben & Jerry’s,” Jope said.
“We were aware of this decision by its brand – by the brand and its independent board, but certainly [its] not our intention that every quarter we’ll have one quite as fiery as this one,” Jope said.
Ben & Jerry’s announced on Monday it will not renew its partnership with its licensee, which manufactures and distributes the company’s ice cream in Israel in the region, when the partnership agreement expires at the end of next year.
However, Ben & Jerry’s plans to remain in Israel through another arrangement that the company has not yet announced.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has vowed to act aggressively against Ben & Jerry’s decision, telling Unilever’s CEO the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise.”
In response to Ben & Jerry’s move, Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma called for a block of all Ben & Jerry’s sales in the his home state in line with state laws.
Oklahoma passed an anti-boycott of Israel law in 2020, which recognizes Israel as a prominent trading partner and prevents the state from doing business with any company that is engaged in a boycott of Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s is not the first company to find itself tangled in controversy over business in the occupied Palestinian territories. In 2018, the rental site Airbnb said it was banning listings of Israeli property in the West Bank, territory Palestinians claim should be part of their state.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.