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Ben & Jerry’s asks US judge to stop parent company's Israel brand sale

Ice cream maker's board says the sale of its business interests to an Israeli licensee could harm its social justice mission
Lawyers for the ice cream maker argue that the Israeli company could take an ice cream that is pro-Palestinian and pitch it in a way that supports Israel’s settlement building (AFP)

A US judge is weighing a request by Ben & Jerry’s for an injunction to block Unilever, its parent company, from selling its assets to an Israeli firm, claiming it could damage the ice cream maker’s image.

Last month, Unilever announced that it would be selling Ben & Jerry's business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger's American Quality Products, the current Israeli licensee of the ice cream brand.

Ben & Jerry’s says the sale could harm its social justice image. 

Many Ben & Jerry's flavours are political in nature, like the Anti-Trump Pecan Resist and Peace Pops. Lawyers for the ice cream maker argue that the Israeli company could take an ice cream that is pro-Palestinian and pitch it in a way that supports Israel’s settlement building, while keeping the essential elements of Ben & Jerry’s brand.

Ben & Jerry’s has been enmeshed in a dispute with its parent company since it announced it would stop selling ice cream in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The move prompted Unilever to sell the ice cream maker's business interests in Israel to Israeli licensee, Avi Zinger.

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Ben & Jerry's board of directors filed a lawsuit to stop the sale on 5 July.

Joseph Ahmad, a lawyer for Ben & Jerry's, argued on Monday that the ice cream maker's social stances were integral to the brand that the board is authorised to protect.

"This is an American institution that has built its reputation on the authenticity of its social mission," he was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying.

Unilver purchased the ice cream maker in 2000, but under a unique governing agreement the board retained the right to oversee Ben and Jerry’s social mission, which it now says is violated by the sale.  

Unilever disputes that the deal causes the brand harm and says the board has no say over operational business decisions or intellectual property, which Unilever obtained as part of the purchase. 

"There is just no reason to believe... that the continued sale of ice cream could cause irreparable harm," Unilever's lawyer, David Marriott, said on Monday.

Ben & Jerry's board has filed a separate lawsuit seeking to clarify the extent of its rights under the 2000 deal.