Unilever’s chief executive said on Thursday that the global consumer goods giant is still “fully committed” to doing business in Israel, and the company’s Ben & Jerry ice cream brand announced this week that it will stop serving Israeli settlements in the occupied territories of Israel. distance. West Bank and East Jerusalem.
But CEO Alan Jope did not say that Unilever will force Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its controversial decision.
Ben & Jerry’s statement is one of the most powerful measures taken by a well-known company against Israeli settlements, which are generally considered illegal by the international community. The Israeli government condemned the decision and accused the company of joining the Palestinian-led boycott of Israel. It has urged 35 U.S. states to pass anti-boycott laws to punish Unilever.
In a conference call with investors, Qiaopu said that Ben & Jerry’s, which has a long history of social activism, made this decision on his own.
He pointed out that according to Unilever’s purchase agreement with Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, the iconic ice cream company has maintained extensive independence in its social justice policies and that Unilever respects this arrangement.
“Obviously, this is a complex and sensitive issue that will cause very strong feelings,” he said. “If I want to emphasize one message in this conference call, it is that Unilever is still fully committed to our business in Israel.”
He said that included a new razor factory costing 35 million euros (41 million U.S. dollars), company offices and facilities that employ approximately 2,000 employees, hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and support for “social programs.”
Qiaopu said that regular in-depth research on such sensitive issues is “not our intention.”
“This is a long-standing problem for Ben & Jerry’s,” he added. “We are aware of this decision of the brand and its independent board of directors, but we certainly do not intend to have one as hot as this quarter every quarter.”
It is not clear whether his remarks will quell the commotion in Israel.
The country’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said earlier this week that he Talked to Qiaopu Regarding what he called “obviously anti-Israel steps.”
Bennett, the former leader of the West Bank Settlement Movement, said on Thursday that Israel will “use its available tools-including legal tools” on this issue, and those who boycott Israel “need to know the price will be paid.”
Ben & Jerry’s stated in the announcement that it would stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying that such sales “do not conform to our values.”
The company’s factory is located in southern Israel, not a settlement, which means that its target customers are consumers, not production facilities.
The Palestinians claimed that the two territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war were part of a future independent state.
After the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and regarded the area as part of its undivided capital. It said that the West Bank is a disputed territory and its fate should be resolved through peaceful negotiations.
However, the international community generally regards these two areas as occupied territories and believes that these settlements are home to approximately 700,000 Israelis and are illegal under international law.
In a statement, Ben & Jerry’s tried to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories, saying that it would continue to produce ice cream in Israel through “different arrangements.” But it did not provide more details and said it will terminate its long-term Israeli licensee’s production agreement at the end of next year.
It will be difficult to separate Israel and its settlements. The Israeli supermarket chain is Ben & Jerry’s main distribution channel, operating in settlements. Israeli law also prohibits local companies from entering settlements.
Israel does not distinguish between settlements and other territories. When the rental company Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer list properties in West Bank settlements, Israel severely condemned the move and eventually forced the company to cancel the decision.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, wrote this week to the governors of 35 US states, urging them to punish Unilever under the anti-boycott law.
On Thursday, he and Bennett hosted a delegation of foreign diplomats. Erdan said he is recruiting diplomats to oppose what he calls “anti-Israel discrimination” on the international stage.
This dispute makes the Israeli ice cream market the latest front in Israel’s long-term struggle with the BDS movement, a grassroots movement led by Palestine, aimed at promoting boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israeli companies, cultural institutions and universities.
BDS organizers stated that they are using South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement as a model to protest what they call Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Its non-violent message resonated with audiences all over the world, including many American university campuses.
-BDS Movement (@BDSmovement) July 19, 2021
But Israel said the movement has a deeper agenda aimed at legitimizing and destroying the country. Some people expressed concern that Ben & Jerry’s, whose founders were all Jewish, might inspire other companies to follow suit.
However, some supporters of Israel said that this decision should be a wake-up call for the settlement policy of the occupied land for half a century.
“When a large ice cream company originally founded by two Jewish entrepreneurs decided not to sell its products in the occupied territories, it was not anti-Semitism,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, chairman of the American liberal pro-Israel lobby group J. Jeremy Ben-Ami) said. street.
“If the Israeli government and American Jewish leaders stop using this term to oppose those who make principled and reasonable distinctions between commercial transactions in the State of Israel and the territories it occupies, then the fight against anti-Semitism will go a long way. ,” He says.