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Judge rules against Ben & Jerry’s in lawsuit over sales in Israel

Residents of Israel’s Judea and Samaria regions will be able to continue buying Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. A federal judge rejected the company’s bid to block its parent company, Unilever, from moving forward with a deal to continue selling its ice cream in the region.

Labeled the “West Bank” by Jordan in 1948 when Jordan occupied the west side of the Jordan River, the region is actually the heart of Israel’s ancient and modern territory. Palestinian Arabs claim it as their country.

Ben & Jerry’s argued in a federal lawsuit filed in July that Unilever’s decision to sell the rights to the brand to a local Israeli company was done without approval from Ben & Jerry’s independent board and violated the brand’s core values of social activism. Unilever’s attorneys maintained that Ben & Jerry’s arguments were highly speculative and that because the deal already was closed, Ben & Jerry’s had no power to challenge it.

“The products sold in Israel and the West Bank will use no English trademarks, instead displaying new Hebrew and Arabic language Ben & Jerry’s trademarks,” District Judge Andrew Carter wrote in his decision. “Thus, the products sold in Israel and the West Bank will be dissimilar from other Ben & Jerry’s products, mitigating, if not eliminating, the possibility of reputational harm.”

Ben & Jerry’s announced last year that it would stop selling ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Unilever, the company that owns Ben & Jerry’s, opposed the boycott of Israel. Unilever sold its business interests in Israel to a local company, which will now independently sell the ice cream under its Hebrew and Arabic name throughout Israel and the West Bank.

Israel applauded the move as a victory over the anti-Israel BDS movement, which advocates for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish state. The BDS movement seeks to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.” Israel sees the movement as an attack on its right to exist.

The contested Israeli settlement communities are on territories Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day war. Israel captured eastern Jerusalem and considers it part of its unified capital and the West Bank as disputed territory whose status should be resolved through negotiations. Palestinians seek the West Bank as part of their future independent state, with eastern Jerusalem as their capital.

Today, some 700,000 Israelis live in settlement communities in the territories. The international community views these settlements as illegal under international law according to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and obstacles to peace because they divide up land that could later be the site of a Palestinian state.  Israel cites the San Remo Resolution signed in 1920 after World War I as its claim under international law to settle the land. Israel also considers the territory that the settlements are built on to be the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice