Israeli lawmakers urge Ben & Jerry’s to drop settlement ban

JERUSALEM (AP) — Three-quarters of the members of the Israeli parliament on Wednesday called on Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its decision to stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem.

In a letter to the Vermont-based ice cream maker, the lawmakers said they were “standing together against the shameful actions” of the company.

They called the decision “immoral and regrettable,” claimed it would hurt hundreds of Jewish and Arab workers and violated an Israeli law banning boycotts of the settlements.

The letter was signed by 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members spanning almost the entire political spectrum. Arab parties and some dovish lawmakers refused to sign.

Ben & Jerry’s, known for its progressive politics, announced last week that it would no longer produce ice cream for Israeli settlements on occupied lands. It is is one of the strongest steps by a well-known company against Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen by the international community as illegal.

Some 700,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem and the West Bank — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians, with wide international backing, claim both areas as parts of a future independent state.

Israel has annexed east Jerusalem and says it is part of its capital, but the annexation is not internationally recognized. It says the West Bank is disputed territory whose fate should be resolved in peace talks. The international community overwhelmingly considers both areas occupied territory.

Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, has said that there was little it could do to block the decision. Under a 2000 purchase agreement, Ben & Jerry’s retained great autonomy over its social-justice policies.

Unilever says it remains “fully committed” to its businesses in Israel and will find a way to continue to produce Ben & Jerry’s inside the country while excluding settlements.

The company has not said how it plans to do this, and despite wide international opposition to the settlements, Israel does not differentiate between the settlements and the rest of its territory.

The Israeli government has condemned Ben & Jerry’s decision, accusing the company of joining a Palestinian-led boycott campaign against Israel.

Omar Barghouti, a BDS co-founder, has said the movement had been urging Ben & Jerry’s to pull out of Israel for years.

The government has urged 35 U.S. states with anti-boycott laws to punish Unilever. Several states, including Texas and Florida, have begun to look into the matter but none have taken action yet.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that it was partly responsible for Ben and Jerry’s decision.

“When this council fails to take strong action against the world’s worst human rights violators like Iran and Syria and instead singles out the world’s only Jewish state, it is no wonder that companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Unilever allow themselves to single out Israel for boycott,” he said.

“These companies have no moral reservations about operating in countries which are truly among the world’s worst violators of human rights, while imposing an anti-Semitic boycott on the Jewish state,” Erdan said. “In light of these double standards, the claims of U.N. bodies and companies like Ben and Jerry’s to be motivated by high ideals and objective standards, melt to nothing, like ice cream in the summer sun.”

Company founders Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, meanwhile, wrote Wednesday in The New York Times that, while they no longer have operational control of Ben & Jerry’s, they are proud of its decision.

“It is a rejection of Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is a barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation,” the two wrote.