By Jonathan Stempel
Ben & Jerry’s was sued on Thursday by its longtime Israeli ice cream manufacturer, which said the company illegally severed their 34-year relationship after halting sales in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
Avi Zinger said Ben & Jerry’s refused to renew the license for his American Quality Products Ltd because he would not abide by the company’s decision to stop selling its products in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem.
Ben & Jerry’s and its parent Unilever Plc declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was filed with the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey.
Founded in 1978 by Merrick natives Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in a renovated gas station, Ben & Jerry’s has long positioned itself as socially conscious, and retained independence to pursue that mission after being acquired by Unilever in 2000.
But the sales boycott announced in July sparked a backlash, including divestments by pension funds and accusations of anti-Semitism by some Jewish groups.
According to Thursday’s complaint, Ben & Jerry’s had “repeatedly promised” Zinger it would renew its license with his 169-employee company beyond its scheduled Dec. 31, 2022 expiration, but caved to pressure from Israel’s opponents.
Zinger, an Israeli citizen, said the only reason for the reversal was his “refusal to comply with their unlawful demand that plaintiffs violate Israeli law by boycotting parts of Israel.”
His lawsuit seeks an injunction maintaining the status quo until the case is resolved, plus unspecified damages.
Most countries consider Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories illegal, which Israel disputes.
In announcing the boycott, Ben & Jerry’s said selling ice cream in those territories was “inconsistent with our values.”
Ben & Jerry’s accounts for about 3% of the global ice cream market.
Cohen and Greenfield, who are Jewish, are not involved in Ben & Jerry’s operations.
They wrote in the New York Times in July that they supported Israel but opposed its “illegal occupation” of the West Bank.
The case is Zinger et al v Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc et al, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 22-01154.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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