Upmarket ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry’s is set to sue its parent company Unilever to block the sale of its Israeli business to a local licensee, saying it was inconsistent with its values to sell its products in the occupied West Bank.
The complaint filed in the US District Court in Manhattan said the sale announced on June 29 threatened to undermine the integrity of the Ben & Jerry’s brand, which Ben & Jerry’s board retained independence to protect when Unilever acquired the company in 2000.
An injunction against transferring the business and related trademarks to Avi Zinger, who runs American Quality Products Ltd, was essential to “protect the brand and social integrity Ben & Jerry’s has spent decades building,” the complaint said.
Ben & Jerry’s has said its board voted 5-2 to sue, with the two Unilever appointees dissenting.
For its part, Unilever, via a statement, said it doesn’t discuss litigation, but that it had the right to sell the disputed business and the transaction had already closed.
“It’s a done deal,” Zinger’s lawyer Alyza Lewin said via a separate statement. The sale resolved Zinger’s own lawsuit in March against Ben & Jerry’s for refusing to renew his license.
In July last year, Ben & Jerry’s said it would end sales in the occupied West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem, and sever its three-decade relationship with Zinger.
For its part, Israel condemned the move and Jewish groups went so far as to accuse Ben & Jerry’s of anti-Semitism. Some investors went on to divest their Unilever holdings.
The ice-cream brand was founded in a renovated petrol station in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.
No longer involved in Ben & Jerry’s operations, the two wrote in the New York Times last July that they support Israel but opposed its “illegal occupation” of the West Bank.
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