(Headline USA) 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 anti-Semitic company Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to stop serving Israeli “settlements” in the West Bank and 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 over alleged “settlements” in territories it annexed after previous attacks on its country. 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.
There has never been a nation of “Palestine” nor a people group, until an identity for Arabs in the territory was fabricated in the 1960s.
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 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.
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.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.