Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, overruled the ice cream brand’s boycott of Israel on Wednesday and said it would resume sales in the Jewish state through a third-party vendor, stating that "anti-Semitism has no place in any society."
In a statement on Tuesday, Unilever said it sold Ben & Jerry’s business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger, an independent vendor who has produced and distributed the ice cream franchise's products under an exclusive contract since 1987. The sale is part of Unilever’s settlement with Zinger, who sued the company in March after Ben & Jerry’s cut off his 35-year contract.
"Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Anti-Semitism has no place in any society," Unilever said. "We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position."
The decision is the most high-profile defeat yet for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and comes nearly a year after Ben & Jerry’s company board announced it would suspend its sales in disputed areas of Israel’s West Bank.
Unilever said that after months of consultations, including with the Israeli government, it "believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel" and "look[s] forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to Israel’s economy and society for many decades to come."
Zinger applauded the settlement in a statement on Wednesday, declaring that "BDS lost."
"I thank Unilever for resolving this matter and for the strong and principled stand it has taken against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement," said Zinger. "There is no place for discrimination in the commercial sale of ice cream."
Zinger’s lawyer Alyza D. Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, called the decision a "major defeat for BDS and enormous victory for civil and human rights."
Joe Sabag, executive director of Israeli-American Coalition for Action, which works to combat the BDS movement, said in a statement: "The stage was set for this huge win over the past years, when over 30 passed laws restricting doing business with companies that boycott Israel. Despite some opposition from progressive quarters, we always insisted that such laws cover 'settlement boycotts'—no discrimination against Jews should be okay. And today that strategy paid off."
Ben & Jerry’s independent board’s decision to boycott Israel last July was a public relations debacle from the beginning, prompting widespread criticism and legal challenges.
But the company’s founders stood by the move, with Ben Cohen telling the anti-Israel activist group Americans for Peace Now that he was "proud" of the boycott last August.
Ben & Jerry’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update 4:10 p.m.: This piece has been updated with an additional comment.