Ben & Jerry’s has been in business in Israel since 1987, but in recent years it has come under pressure to sell in West Bank settlements, which are illegal under international law. In July 2021, it announced that it would stop selling in the West Bank entirely.
That sparked a dispute with its longtime distributor in Israel, American Quality Products (AQP), which sued Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever in March, arguing that they “illegally terminated their 34-year business relationship in order to boycott Israel.”
Unilever, one of the world’s largest sellers of consumer goods including Dove soap and Magnum ice cream, has tried to draw a line under the controversy with its announcement last week that it had sold Israel’s Ben & Jerry’s business for an undisclosed amount to the base in Qatar.
The retail giant said that from now on, Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank.
But the decision to sell to the base in Qatar surprised Ben & Jerry’s board, according to a court filing, which said its chair was “shocked” to hear the news.
Since 2021, Ben & Jerry’s has been adamantly opposed to selling its products in the West Bank, saying it would be “incompatible” with the brand.
In its complaint Tuesday, it noted that its brand values are subject to legal oversight by an independent board of directors under a 2000 agreement with Unilever.
Ben & Jerry’s said the board decided to pursue legal action last week at a meeting in which five board members voted to allow litigation, and two of Unilever’s appointees opposed.
But it emphasized that the parent company “retains primary responsibility for financial and operating decisions, and therefore has the right to enter into this arrangement.”
In a new statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Unilever reiterated that it “is entitled to enter into this arrangement.”
“The deal is already over,” the representative said, adding that she would not comment on pending litigation.
In its statement last week, Unilever said it had conducted a review of its business there “over several months, including with the Israeli government.”
She added that “Unilever took the opportunity last year to hear views on this complex and sensitive issue, and believes that this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.”
Jordan Valinsky contributed to this report.
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