Three-quarters of the members of the Israeli parliament have called on Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its decision to stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem.
In a letter to the US-based ice cream maker, the legislators said they were “standing together against the shameful actions” of the company.
They called the decision “immoral and regrettable”, claimed it would affect hundreds of Jewish and Arab workers and violated an Israeli law banning boycotts of the settlements.
The letter was signed by 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members spanning almost the entire political spectrum. Arab parties and some dovish legislators refused to sign.
Ben & Jerry’s, known for its progressive politics, announced last week that it would no longer produce ice cream for Israeli settlements on occupied lands. It is is one of the strongest steps so far by a well-known company against Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen by the international community as illegal.
Some 700,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem and the West Bank — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle Eeast war. The Palestinians, with wide international backing, claim both areas as parts of a future independent state.
Israel has annexed east Jerusalem and says it is part of its capital, but the annexation is not internationally recognised.
It says the West Bank is disputed territory whose fate should be resolved in peace talks. The international community overwhelmingly considers both areas occupied territory.
Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, said there was little it could do to block the decision. Under a 2000 purchase agreement, Ben & Jerry’s retained great autonomy over its social-justice policies.
Unilever says it remains “fully committed” to its businesses in Israel and will find a way to continue to produce Ben & Jerry’s inside the country while excluding settlements.
The company has not said how it plans to do this, and despite wide international opposition to the settlements, Israel does not differentiate between the settlements and the rest of its territory.
The Israeli government accused the company of joining a Palestinian-led boycott campaign against Israel.
Omar Barghouti, a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) co-founder, said the movement had been urging Ben & Jerry’s to pull out of Israel for years.
The Israeli government has urged 35 US states with anti-boycott laws to punish Unilever. Several states, including Texas and Florida, have begun to look into the matter but none have taken action yet.