After backlash, NJ-based Unilever says it's ending Ben & Jerry ice cream ban

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Ben & Jerry’s can continue to be sold in settlements in occupied Palestinian territories despite a decision by the ice cream maker last year to end business there, its Bergen County-based parent company has announced.

Unilever PLC, in Englewood Cliffs, said Wednesday that it had sold its Ben & Jerry's business interests in Israel to a local licensee, allowing sales to continue in the West Bank.

The news comes nearly a year after Ben & Jerry’s said it would end sales there, saying sales in the settlements were “inconsistent with its values,” citing human rights violations and an occupation that international organizations say is illegal, a claim Israel disputes.

Ben & Jerry’s decision sparked a public furor as Israel and its U.S. supporters argued that the actions unfairly targeted Israel and violated anti-discrimination laws. Several states, including New Jersey, divested millions of dollars in Unilever stocks and bonds from pension funds in response.

Unilever’s contract with Ben & Jerry's allows its independent board to make decisions about its social mission. But the company said in its statement that it “reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement.”

The arrangement means that Ben & Jerry's in Israel will be owned and operated by the current licensee. "Our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry's in Israel. We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry's values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory," the ice cream maker said in an emailed statement.

In its announcement, Unilever said it “rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance,” and that it does not support the movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Israeli leaders and pro-Israel groups in the U.S. celebrated Unilever’s action, calling it a victory against BDS. Modeled after the anti-apartheid boycott of South Africa, the movement aims to increase international pressure on Israel to end its occupation and end human rights violations against Palestinians.

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Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released reports documenting what they describe as crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians, a charge Israel has called false and biased.

Last year, Unilever and Ben & Jerry's said it was not a boycott because they were continuing sales in Israel, but not in the settlements. Israel makes no distinction and says that boycotting is an attempt to "delegitimize" Israel. Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the Jewish founders of Ben & Jerry’s, defended the company’s actions “not as anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace," in an opinion piece for The New York Times last year.

Unilever's decision was part of a settlement in a lawsuit that the Israeli licensee, Avi Zinger, owner of American Quality Products, filed against the company in U.S. District Court in Newark in March, alleging breach of contract and violation of Israeli and American anti-boycott and anti-discrimination laws.

British conglomerate Unilever PLC, a multinational consumer goods company, employs 1,600 people at its U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs. It owns more than 400 brands including Dove, Lipton, Vaseline and Pond's.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Unilever ends Ben & Jerry’s ban, OKs West Bank settlements sales