Unilever chief says company ‘fully committed’ to Israel

Jul 22, 2021, 3:51 AM | Updated: 12:14 pm

JERUSALEM (AP) — The chief executive of Unilever on Thursday said the global consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel, distancing himself from this week’s announcement by the company’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand to stop serving Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem.

But CEO Alan Jope gave no indication that Unilever would force Ben & Jerry’s to roll back its controversial decision.

The Ben & Jerry’s announcement is one of the strongest steps by a well-known company against Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen by the international community as illegal. The Israeli government has condemned the decision, accusing the company of joining a Palestinian-led boycott campaign against Israel. It has urged 35 American states with anti-boycott laws to punish Unilever.

In a conference call with investors, Jope said that Ben & Jerry’s, which has a long history of social activism, had made the decision on its own.

He noted that under its purchase agreement with Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, the iconic ice cream company maintained broad independence over its social justice policies and that Unilever respected that arrangement.

“Obviously it’s a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings,” he said. “If there is one message I want to underscore in this call, it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”

That includes a new 35 million euro ($41 million) razor factory, corporate offices and facilities that employ some 2,000 people, hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and support for “social programs,” he said.

He said “it is not our intent” to regularly delve into such sensitive matters.

“It’s been a longstanding issue for Ben & Jerry’s,” he said. “We were aware of this decision by the brand and its independent board, but it’s certainly not our intention that every quarter will have one quite as fiery as this one.”

It remained unclear whether his comments would calm the uproar in Israel.

The country’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said earlier this week that he had spoken to Jope about what he called a “clearly anti-Israel step.”

Bennett, a former leader of the West Bank settlement movement, said Thursday that Israel would “use the tools at its disposal — including legal — on this issue” and that those boycotting Israel “need to know that there will be a price to pay.”

In its announcement, Ben & Jerry’s said it would step selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem, saying such sales were “inconsistent with our values.”

The company’s factory is in southern Israel, not in a settlement, meaning that it is targeting consumers, as opposed to a production facility.

The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future independent state.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers the area part of its undivided capital. It says the West Bank is disputed territory whose fate should be resolved in peace talks. But the international community widely sees both areas as occupied territory and considers the settlements, home to some 700,000 Israelis, as illegal under international law.

In its statement, Ben & Jerry’s sought to differentiate between Israel and occupied lands, saying it would continue to produce ice cream inside Israel through a “different arrangement.” But it gave no further details and said it would end its production agreement with its long-time Israeli licensee at the end of next year.

Separating Israel and its settlements will be difficult. Israeli supermarket chains, a main distribution channel for Ben & Jerry’s, operate in the settlements. Israeli law also prevents local companies from boycotting the settlements.

Israel does not differentiate between the settlements and the rest of its territory. When home-rental company Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer list properties in West Bank settlements, Israel harshly condemned the move and eventually pressured the company into canceling the decision.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States and United Nations, Gilad Erdan, this week sent a letter to the governors of 35 U.S. states urging them to punish Unilever under anti-boycott laws.

On Thursday, he joined Bennett in hosting a delegation of foreign diplomats. Erdan said he was enlisting the diplomats in the fight against what he called “anti-Israel discrimination” on the international stage.

The dispute has turned the Israeli ice cream market into the latest front in Israel’s long-running battle against the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led grassroots campaign that promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities.

BDS organizers say they are protesting what they call Israeli oppression of Palestinians in a campaign modeled on the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Its nonviolent message has resonated with audiences around the world, including on many U.S. college campuses.

But Israel says the movement has a deeper agenda aimed at delegitimizing and destroying the country. Some have expressed concern that Ben & Jerry’s, whose founders are both Jewish, could spur other companies to follow suit.

Some supporters of Israel, however, have said the decision should be a wake-up call over the half-century settlement policies in occupied lands.

“When a major ice cream company originally founded by two Jewish entrepreneurs decides not to sell its products in the occupied territories, that isn’t antisemitism,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal U.S. pro-Israel lobbying group J Street.

“The fight against antisemitism would be helped a great deal if the Israeli government and U.S. Jewish leaders would stop using the term against those who draw a principled and rational distinction between commercial transactions in the state of Israel and those in the territory it occupies,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Volunteers clear rubble on the second floor of Zhanna and Serhiy Dynaeva's house which was destroye...
Associated Press

In Ukraine, rebuilding starts with neighbors’ help

NOVOSELIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — As battles raged around Kyiv, one Russian advance was stopped in front of Maria Metla’s home. Artillery gutted most of the house, while the rest was pulverized by tank fire. Metla, 66, is now counting on her neighbors to have somewhere to live this winter. Crews of volunteers turn up on […]
2 hours ago
FILE - Saudi Aramco engineers and journalists look at the Hawiyah Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plan...
Associated Press

High oil prices help Saudi Aramco earn $88B in first half

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi energy company Aramco said Sunday its profits jumped 90% in the second quarter compared to the same time last year, helping its half-year earnings reach nearly $88 billion. The increase is a boon for the kingdom and the crown prince’s spending power as people around the world pay […]
1 day ago
Scuffles break out between political party agents and police, including presidential candidate Rail...
Associated Press

Brief scuffles slow tallying in Kenya’s close election

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s peaceful presidential election saw a brief disruption late Saturday when riot police responded to scuffles at the national tallying center amid tensions over the close results. An agent for longtime opposition leader and candidate Raila Odinga announced from the lectern that the tallying center was the “scene of a crime” […]
1 day ago
A Kyrgyz woman and her dog stand near a traditional yurt where she lives with members of her family...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: Fermented horse milk season on in Kyrgyzstan

SUUSAMYR, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — High up in the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, the season for making the fermented drink known as kumis is in full swing. Connoisseurs of kumis, an important part of nomadic tribes’ diets for untold centuries, say the Suusamyr valley is home to the best version of the drink. In winter, […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Reports: 1 dead, 17 hurt in crash outside Pennsylvania bar

BERWICK, Pa. (AP) — One person has died and another 17 people were injured after a vehicle struck a crowd gathered at a Pennsylvania bar on Saturday for an event to raise money for victims of a house fire that killed 10 earlier this month, authorities said. WNEP-TV said the crash occurred outside the Intoxicology […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Today in History: August 14, McVeigh sentenced to death

Today in History Today is Sunday, Aug. 14, the 226th day of 2022. There are 139 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Aug. 14, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced that Imperial Japan had surrendered unconditionally, ending World War II. On this date: In 1848, the Oregon Territory was created. In […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Unilever chief says company ‘fully committed’ to Israel