Shareholders and employees give Ben & Jerry’s a frosty backlash over BDS.
By Pesach Benson, United with Israel
Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, has been sued by a shareholder who accusing the British conglomerate of mishandling the ice cream business’s boycott of Israel and misleading investors.
Following intense pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, Vermont-based ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced in July it would no longer sell its frozen treats in Judea and Samaria. The Vermont-based business is also ending its association with Avi Zinger, who currently manufactures and distributes Ben & Jerry’s products in Israel.
Thirty five U.S. states have anti-BDS laws. New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, and Arizona have already announced their plans to divest their holdings.
These laws are credited with quickly reversing Airbnb’s boycott of Israeli settlements in 2019.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that the class action lawsuit was filed by a Michigan pension fund, the City of St. Clair Shores Police and Fire Retirement System. As a class action lawsuit, other Unilever shareholders could potentially join.
The suit, filed in New York Southern District Court, accuses Unilever of improperly concealing Ben & Jerry’s boycott plans before they were announced. The suit further alleges that Unilever executives misled investors regarding the risks of consumer backlash and reduced sales.
The suit also notes that the value of Unilever’s ADRs (American depository receipts, a negotiable security that represents securities of a foreign company which enable that company’s shares to be traded in U.S. markets) have fallen. In the six months following Ben & Jerry’s announcement, Unilever’s stock fell 20 percent.
“As a result of defendants’ wrongful acts and omissions, and the declines in the market value of Unilever ADRs, plaintiff and other class members have suffered significant losses and damages,” the complaint said.
Also named as defendants are Unilever’s board of directors and Chief Executive Alan Jope. Unilever has not responded to requests for comment.
The suit isn’t the only legal action stemming from the Ben & Jerry’s boycott. American Quality Products Ltd., which is owned by Avi Zinger and holds a license to produce and distribute Ben & Jerry’s in Israel sued Ben & Jerry’s in the U.S. for failing to renew its license.
According U.S. reports, that lawsuit was recently paused as the parties agreed to arbitration.
Job Orientation or Indoctrination?
Meanwhile, Jewish Insider reported on Monday that new employees at Ben & Jerry’s are required to watch a four-video lecture series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The videos are part of an orientation program called “Scooper Series: Social Mission.” Other videos in the series address racism in the U.S., an employee who saw the videos told JI.
A portion of the series obtained and posted online by the JI featured Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch discussing Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. Shakir, a U.S. citizen, was deported from Israel in 2019 over his support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
“If you look at the recent escalation that took place in May of 2021, it started over discriminatory efforts to force Palestinians out of their homes in occupied East Jerusalem as part of this larger policy,” Shakir says in the video.
“The policy also extends to the Gaza Strip,” he continues. “Although the Israeli government withdrew its settler population and ground forces in 2005, the Israeli government continues to exercise control over Gaza. And our study of Israeli policy over the last 16 years shows that it sought as [well as] pursued a written policy of separation between Gaza and the West Bank. Its enforcement of this policy largely aims to prevent Gaza residents from moving to the West Bank as part of a policy to remove the large Palestinian population in Gaza — 2 million people living in a 25-by-seven-mile territory — off Israel’s demographic balance sheet.”
Palestinian population stats have been disputed as inflated in the past, as have the number of so-called refugees the Palestinians claim exist.
Shakir counseled Ben & Jerry’s board on the boycott issue.
Ben & Jerry’s did not respond to requests for comment.