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Unilever rejects BDS, distances itself from Ben & Jerry's decision

July 28, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Ben&Jerry’s ice cream in Jerusalem on July 20, 2021 [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]

Coming under fire for Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, parent company Unilever sought to assuage concerns of several American Jewish groups saying Unilever “does not support” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Reuters reported.

“Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any forms of discrimination or intolerance. Anti-Semitism has no place in any society,” the company’s CEO Alan Jope wrote in a letter to several Jewish organisations, including the US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL), today.

“We have never expressed any support for the BDS movement and have no intention of changing that position,” Jope said.

BDS is a Palestinian-led movement which is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle, it urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s said last week it would stop doing business in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, that has been handled by a licensee partner since 1987.

Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and as an obstacle to peace.

The decision by Ben & Jerry’s spurred a backlash from Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who said it was “a glaring anti-Israel measure” and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who denounced the move as a “new form of terrorism”.

READ: How Ben & Jerry’s has exposed Israel’s anti-BDS strategy 

U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle have voiced concerns over the decision, while several small New York-based grocery chains have reduced or pulled Ben & Jerry’s products from shelves.

In the letter to the American Jewish groups, Jope echoed comments he made on a post-earnings Unilever call, saying the company was “fully committed” to Israel.

He tried to distance himself from brewing tensions between Unilever and the board of Ben & Jerry’s, which it acquired in 2000 in a deal that gave the brand more autonomy over its strategy and decision making compared to other brands.

“We have always recognized the right of the brand and its independent Board to take decisions in accordance with its social mission. On this decision, it was no different,” he wrote.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, said it was “heartened” to read of Unilever’s stance but urged “Unilever to do whatever it can to convince the Ben and Jerry’s board to change its position.”

While the ADL defines itself as an anti-racist organisation fighting “all forms of bigotry” and supporting the civil liberties of all Americans, the organisation is clearly biased. Rather than confronting the anti-Semitism of powerful minorities in the US, for example the Christian right, the ADL fights the anti-Zionist minorities that are already discriminated against both in Palestine and in the US. One example is the public war the ADL waged against the proposed Islamic community centre near ground zero in lower Manhattan, one of many Islamophobic actions.

The ADL’s staunchly pro-Israel activities blatantly contradict its anti-bigotry mission, and sometimes the organisation even slanders Jewish organisations when they are critical of the State of Israel, as illustrated in its publication of the “Top ten anti-Israel groups in America in 2013“, which includes the group Jewish Voice for Peace.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many organisations Jope sent his letter to.