Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday warned Unilever of “severe consequences” for the decision of its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to halt ice cream sales in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested East Jerusalem, according to a statement from Bennett’s office.
Bennett’s office said the prime minister spoke to Unilever CEO Alan Jope on the phone and decried the boycott—announced by the ice cream maker on Monday—as a “blatantly anti-Israel step.”
He warned that Israel will “act aggressively” in response, threatening the British consumer goods conglomerate, which acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, with “serious repercussions, legal and otherwise.”
Unilever declined to comment on Jope’s conversation with Bennett, but pointed Forbes to a statement published Monday in which the company said it has “always recognized the right of the brand and its independent board to take decisions about its social mission.”
The company also said it “[welcomes] the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel.”
After months of silence on social media, Ben & Jerry’s—a company famous for its strong stances on progressive issues—suddenly announced Monday its decision to end its business in “occupied Palestinian territory.” Ben & Jerry’s has for the past three decades licensed a factory in Israel which produces and distributes ice cream in the country, as well as in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The company’s ties to those controversial settlements have for years drawn the ire of progressive activists, who accused the company of hypocrisy for its silence on the issue.
In a statement posted to its website Monday, the Vermont-based ice cream giant said it has heard the “concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners” and deemed it “inconsistent with our values” to continue selling products in the Israeli settlements.
The move immediately sparked condemnation from Israel’s government. Israel’s foreign ministry on Monday criticized the decision as “a surrender to ongoing and aggressive pressure from extreme anti-Israel groups” and accused the company of cooperating with “economic terrorism.” Meanwhile, Israel’s economy minister, Orna Barbivai, posted a video of herself throwing a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream into the trash.
The settlements are a long-standing source of dispute between Israel and Palestine, and the international community. The United Nations has accused Israel of violating international law, which bars an occupying power from transferring its population to territories captured in war under the Fourth Geneva Convention. However, the U.S., one of Israel’s closest allies, has taken fluctuating positions on the issue. The Trump administration famously reversed the U.S.’s decades-long classification of the settlements as illegal, and President Biden is yet to change the policy.
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