Ben & Jerry's Co-Founder Cites 'Misinformation' for States Divesting From Company Over Israel

Ben & Jerry's co-founder Jerry Greenfield said the decision by some states to divest from its parent company Unilever due to the ice cream maker's Israel policy is "largely based on misinformation."

In July, Ben & Jerry's said it would no longer sell its ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, saying Israel's policies in the region are "inconsistent" with the company's values, though it planned to stay in Israel through a new arrangement.

The decision prompted swift backlash from pro-Israel advocates. Many states have since vowed to divest from Unilever over the decision.

When asked about this divestment in an Axios interview released to Twitter Sunday, Greenfield and Ben Cohen, the other co-founder, defended their decision not to sell in the occupied territories.

"I think Ben & Jerry's and Unilever are being characterized as boycotting Israel, which is not the case at all" Greenfield said. "It's not boycotting Israel in anyway."

Greenfield described the backlash as "painful." Both men pushed back on accusations they are anti-semitic for the policy, Cohen calling the allegations "absurd" while pointing out they are both Jewish.

"I'm anti-Jewish? I'm a Jew," Cohen said, adding that he supports a two-state solution and Israel's right to exist. He believes Israeli policy endorsing settlements "keep on making it harder and harder to actually have a two-state solution," he said.

When Axios reporter Alexi McCammond pushed back on why they still sell ice cream in Georgia and Texas—despite policies regarding voting rights and abortion they disagree with—the men appeared taken aback.

"By that reasoning, we should not sell any ice cream anywhere," Cohen said. "I've got issues with what's being done in most every state and most every country."

Greenfield added, "One thing that's different is that what Israel is doing is considered illegal by international law."

Several states have threatened to divest from the company since July. A committee from the Illinois Investment Policy Board warned them to retract the decision or face divestment.

"We'll meet in the next week or so just for this issue, asking the board to send a letter to Unilever giving it 90 days to confirm or deny" Ben & Jerry's stance, Andy Lappin, the committee's chairman, said. "In this case, it was a blatantly open statement made by the chairman of Ben & Jerry's and we need to determine if Unilever deems it appropriate to walk the statement back."

In September, Texas added Ben & Jerry's to a list of companies boycotting Israel, allowing a process to begin that could ultimately see the state sell, redeem, divest, or withdraw all publicly traded securities of the company."

Ben & Jerry's has long been known for its progressive activism, often sparking controversy from conservatives.

In September, the company announced a new flavor to support Missouri Representative Cori Bush's proposed People's Response Act, which was drafted to curb police violence against people with mental illnesses and health complications.

In January, the ice cream company called for the removal of President Donald Trump over the riots at the U.S. Capitol.

Newsweek reached out to Ben & Jerry's for comment Monday morning but had not heard back by publication. This story will be updated with any response.

Ben & Jerry's
The co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s defended their policy to not sell ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, blaming “misinformation” for states divesting from its parent company. Here, a Ben & Jerry’s location is seen in Yavne, about 19 miles south of Tel Aviv. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images