A nonprofit group has announced plans to take Ben & Jerry’s down in Israel – and it is anxious to go to court if the ice cream maker tries to shut it down.
Tel Aviv’s Shurat HaDin Law Center has filed an application to distribute Ben & Jerry’s frozen desserts in the West Bank under the name “Judea and Samaria’s Ben & Jerry’s” – arguing that the Vermont-based company lost its trademark rights when she said she would freeze sales in “the occupied Palestinian territory.”
In a July 23 letter to the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, the Law Center said it has registered a trademark for Ben & Jerry’s of Judea and Samaria with the Israeli Justice Ministry.
“We will now become the rightful owners of the Ben & Jerry’s name in Judea and Samaria,” the letter said, referring to the historic Hebrew names of areas in the West Bank where Ben & Jerry’s plans to do business.
According to Shurat HaDin president and letter author Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a decision on whether Ben & Jerry’s in Judea and Samaria could be made in a few weeks time.
If approved, the new company will go into making Ben & Jerry’s branded ice cream in the region, even operating ice cream parlors under the famous brand, the letter said.
In addition to iconic flavors like Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia, new flavors could include “Frozen Chosen People,” according to a mockup from the rival brand, which otherwise looks exactly like the Vermont ice cream maker.
Leitner says his organization is in talks with several ice cream makers to produce a copy of Ben Jerry’s product. “They are very successful and we are going to copy them,” she said.
Unilever did not immediately return a request for comment.
The legal group, known for defying controversial companies in the Middle East, is also said to be in favor of a challenge by Ben & Jerry’s of its branding plans.
In 2019, she sued Airbnb in a Delaware court after the roommate company said it would remove listings of properties located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Airbnb reversed its decision following the lawsuit.
Leitner’s goal in the ice cream case, she told the Post, is to force Unilever to defend its brand in court. She wants the conglomerate, which bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, to explain “why they are doing business in (other) occupied territories and they don’t want to do business in Israel.”
“This step that we have taken their hand strength. I don’t think they thought about it very carefully, ”she said.
Ben & Jerry’s announcement to withdraw from areas occupied by Israel since 1967 – namely the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – sparked a firestorm that continues to burn.
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned UK-based Unilever that his actions would have “serious consequences.” Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, wrote a letter to governors of 35 U.S. states asking them to condemn Ben & Jerry’s decision.
“We must stand united and send an unequivocal message that this will not be tolerated,” according to the letter’s reports.
Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, meanwhile, called for a ban on all sales of Ben & Jerry’s in his state, which passed a law last year preventing Oklahoma from doing business with companies engaged in a boycott of Israel.
Several supermarkets have also taken a stand on the issue, including Morton Williams of the Big Apple, which is cutting its Ben & Jerry’s inventory by 70% following the announcement. He also agreed to stop promoting the brand, as The Post first reported on Monday.
An Albany-based graphic designer, who had worked for Ben & Jerry’s for 21 years, quit her job, publicly announcing her decision on social media, as reported by The Post.
“Immediately I quit my 21-year job at Ben & Jerry’s because of the Israel statement,” employee Susannah Levin said in a statement. Facebook post Tuesday.
Unilever, meanwhile, has sought to distance itself from the announcement, saying the decision was made independently by Ben & Jerry’s, who controls its messaging and branding.
“Unilever remains fully engaged in our activities in Israel,” CEO Alan Jope said on Thursday. “This is a decision that was made by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board of directors pursuant to an acquisition agreement we signed 20 years ago.”