Lawyers for Ben & Jerry’s asserted in U.S. District Court in New Jersey this week that the ice cream maker has an “absolute right” to discontinue business with its Israeli franchisee.
Arguing that their agreement provides for non-renewal options for both parties, they dismissed as “a sideshow” allegations that Ben and Jerry’s pressured the franchisee, American Quality Products Co., to violate Israeli law.
AQP’s owner in Israel, Avi Zinger, sued the Unilever subsidiary last month. He argued that Ben & Jerry’s cannot legally discontinue doing business with AQP just because he refuses to implement the Vermont company’s anti-Semitic boycott of the “occupied Palestinian territories.”
From a report by Law360.com (paywall):
“AQP’s motion seeks to distract the court with allegations about Israeli laws and the policies of the U.S., New York and New Jersey concerning Israel. That is a side show,” Ben & Jerry’s told the New Jersey federal court. “This is a contract dispute and nothing more.”
Three weeks ago, AQP had sued Ben & Jerry’s and its parent companies, Conopco Inc. and Unilever United States Inc., saying that Ben & Jerry’s had given AQP an illegal ultimatum — stop selling Ben & Jerry’s in occupied Palestinian territories, or lose its distribution deal with Ben & Jerry’s, which dates back to 1987.
In a motion seeking a preliminary injunction, AQP called that alleged demand illegal under Israel anti-discrimination and anti-boycott laws, as well as New Jersey and New York statutes requiring states to divest pension funds from companies boycotting Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s didn’t directly discuss AQP’s claims of an illegal demand in its Tuesday response. Instead, it criticized that contention as a “red herring” and argued that AQP’s lawsuit was purely a contractual affair.
If Ben & Jerry’s successfully cuts ties with AQP, but Zinger is correct about Israeli laws that forbid boycotts of certain areas, then the ice cream manufacturer will be without a distributor in Israel starting in 2023. On Monday, Zinger wrote about his history representing Ben & Jerry’s in Israel and his charitable efforts over the last 35 years to bring Jews and Palestinians together.
Learn more about NLPC’s initiative to hold Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s accountable at StopBenandJerrys.com.