Ben & Jerry’s Israeli subsidiary sues Unilever over West Bank policies

(JTA) — American Quality Products Ltd. owns Ben & Jerry’s factories and has been distributing the product in Israel since 1987. Last year, after the famous ice cream brand announced that it would no longer sell ice cream in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”, AQP continued to sell it. sell in the West Bank.

This cost the company its licensing deal with Unilever, the British conglomerate that owns Ben & Jerry’s.

AQP owner Avi Avraham Zinger filed a lawsuit against Unilever on Thursday in New Jersey, asking a court to compel him to allow AQP to continue selling Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.

Lawsuit describes Ben & Jerry’s statement as a ‘boycott of parts of Israel’ – thus, it claims, making the deal in violation of multiple US laws, including the US Export Controls Reform Act and the United States-Israel Commerce and Business Improvement Act. These place restrictions on doing business with companies that boycott Israel and also require companies to report that they are engaged in boycotts with US allies.

The lawsuit also claims the deal violates state anti-discrimination laws. New Jersey is the US headquarters of Unilever.

The lawsuit further states that a February 10 announcement by Unilever that Ben & Jerry’s products would soon be sold to Israel under a “new deal” created an unfair advantage for AQP’s competitors and made it more difficult for the company to hire staff in an uncertain business climate.

AQP’s current agreement with Ben & Jerry’s runs until the end of this year; Unilever is seeking to continue selling the ice cream in pre-1967 Israeli lines, which do not include parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in a way that would allow it to comply with Ben & Jerry’s.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center, an American group that often participates in pro-Israel court cases, is part of AQP’s legal team, along with three other law firms. Brandeis President Alyza Lewin said in a statement, “Unilever’s unlawful action is detrimental not only to Avi Zinger and his company, but also to Avi’s employees; its Palestinian distributors and suppliers; and the general public. »

The lawsuit is the latest in an ongoing legal backlash against the ice cream maker and its owner. Several states, including New Jersey, New York, Illinois and Arizona, have also invoked their laws against boycotts of Israel to hand over their public pension funds to Unilever over the controversy, to the tune of hundreds of dollars. millions of dollars.

Unilever said it does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but its ownership agreement with Ben & Jerry’s allows B&J’s board to make decisions independent of their oversight.

Representatives of Ben & Jerry’s claimed that restricting sales of its ice cream in the occupied territories did not constitute a boycott of Israel.

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