Ben & Jerry’s founders say, ‘We’re proud Jews,’ defend West Bank sales ban

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The founders of Ben & Jerry’s are defending their company’s decision to put the freeze on selling ice cream in the West Bank, calling it "the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

Although Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield no longer have control of their namesake company — British food giant Unilever owns it — they backed its decision on Thursday, despite the fact it has drawn fury from Israelis and New Yorkers alike.

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"We are the founders of Ben & Jerry’s. We are also proud Jews. It’s part of who we are and how we’ve identified ourselves for our whole lives," the founders wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times Thursday.

"As our company began to expand internationally, Israel was one of our first overseas markets. We were then, and remain today, supporters of the State of Israel."

The duo added that it is "possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies" just as they’ve "opposed policies in the US government." The men said they "unequivocally support the decision of the company to end business in the occupied territories, which a majority of the international community," including the US, "has deemed an illegal occupation."

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In recent days, the company’s decision has been called out as anti-Semitic by critics, including Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who threatened Unilever CEO Alan Jope with consequences for the company due to the sales ban.

Public officials in the US have also criticized the move, with a number of states, including New York, that have adopted so-called anti-boycott laws threatening to divest their pension funds from Unilever.

Unilever has tried to distance itself from the controversy.

In a letter Tuesday to several Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, Unilever’s Jope said the company "rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any forms of discrimination or intolerance."

"Anti-Semitism has no place in any society," he added, explaining that when Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, it agreed to leave control over the subsidiary’s brand and social justice mission in the hands of an independent board, which is led by Anuradha Mittal.

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In their Thursday op-ed, Cohen and Greenfield said they "signed a unique governance structure in the acquisition agreement with Unilever" in 2000, which is the "magic" behind Ben & Jerry’s "brand integrity" and "social mission."

Nevertheless, Ben & Jerry’s decision to pull out of the "Occupied Palestinian Territory" irked Unilever’s own Jewish employees as well as various grocery store chains around the country.

As reported by The Post, Avi Kaner, co-owner of the New York-based Morton Williams supermarket chain, has said his stores will limit the presence of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. On Twitter, he responded to Mittal’s declaration that she’s not anti-Semitic, saying, "Please DM me and set up a call."

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"As an owner of a supermarket chain and an advocate for regional peace, I can provide perspectives that may help," he added. "If the goal is peace, please contact me and let’s talk."

This story first appeared in the New York Post. 

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