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Ben & Jerry's' corporate owner found a workaround to sell ice cream in the West Bank


A year after Ben & Jerry's said it would no longer sell its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, its corporate owner, Unilever, has found a new way to keep sales going. It's selling its Israeli Ben & Jerry's operation to the local company that's been distributing it all along. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Ben & Jerry's Israeli manufacturer makes kosher Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia and even made a special flavor for Passover. Their ice cream is also sold in the occupied West Bank, including Israeli settlements. In the U.S., Ben & Jerry's faced a campaign from pro-Palestinian activists last year and decided to pull out of the West Bank in protest of what its founders called an occupation that violates the human rights of Palestinians. That led to a dispute with Avi Zinger, the owner of Ben & Jerry's Israeli manufacturer, and it prompted anger from Israeli officials.

YAIR LAPID: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, called it a disgraceful surrender to anti-Semitism, which the Jewish ice cream company's founders denied. Several U.S. states divested their pension funds from Ben & Jerry's parent company, Unilever. Today, Unilever announced a workaround to keep the ice cream in the West Bank.

LIOR HAIAT: I think this is a huge victory for Israel over the boycott organization.

ESTRIN: Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat. Unilever sold its business interests to the Israeli manufacturer. The details are convoluted, and it's part of a larger debate about the complexities of putting economic pressure on Israel.

Omar Shakir works for Human Rights Watch and advised Ben & Jerry's on its position against sales in the West Bank. He sees something positive in the deal.

OMAR SHAKIR: Unilever has tried to undermine the Ben & Jerry's decision by selling that business to an Israeli distributor or supplier. But that, you know, does not change the reality that Ben & Jerry's isn't operating, isn't doing business, you know, in settlements.

ESTRIN: Ben & Jerry's flavors and brand name will stay the same, just won't appear in English. Ben & Jerry's in the U.S. will get to say it's not selling in the West Bank, an Israeli company is. And Israelis in the West Bank will get to still have their Ben & Jerry's ice cream and eat it, too. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.