“We will continue to sell anywhere that is connected to Israel,” Zenger told AFP from his factory in the agricultural village of Beer Tuvia, south of Tel Aviv, where 160 employees work in the summer ice cream industry.
The Vermont-based company, Unilever, announced Monday that it will stop marketing its products in the occupied Palestinian territories, specifically the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as this does not comply with its “values.”
The company recognizes international law that considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.
Naphthalene Benite: The boycott did not and will not succeed, and we will fight it with all our might
The international community and the United Nations consider the territories occupied after 1967 only to be the occupied Palestinian territories, which Israel rejects.
Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967. Since then, it has been building settlements in the West Bank, where about 670,000 Israelis live.
The international community considers the settlements illegal. Tension constantly prevails between Palestinians and residents of the settlements.
Palestinians welcomed the US company’s announcement of a boycott of settlements. On social networking pages, the phrase “my favorite ice cream” and invitations to buy it spread.
Activists on Facebook also circulated a picture of the head of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, eating ice cream and making a gesture of praise, emphasizing his support for the boycott decision.
Zinger could have been happy with this free publicity, but the American company’s announcement sparked a storm of Israeli reactions on social media and officials, threatening the ice cream market he sells.
The Israeli government has been fighting fiercely for years, the BDS movement, which calls for an economic, cultural or academic boycott of Israel with the aim of ending the occupation and settlement in the Palestinian territories.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who made a direct call to the CEO of Unilever, threatened “severe consequences” as a result of the decision.
“The boycott has not and will not succeed, and we will fight it with all our might,” his office said, adding, “We have a lot of ice cream, but we own one country.”
In a letter Tuesday, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, urged 35 of the 50 US states to follow the laws against the boycott movement that were passed to prohibit boycotts of Israel.
While President Isaac Herzog described the boycott as a “new form of terrorism,” the Palestinian Authority considered that Herzog should thank “Ben & Jerry” because they “raised the alarm bells.”
“Either Israel hears the message and works to end its occupation, or it will face a complete boycott,” she added.
Tom Bateman, the BBC’s correspondent in Jerusalem, says that “Ben & Jerry’s” ice cream is very popular in Israel, as it produces ice cream with special flavors in line with Jewish religious occasions and national Israeli celebrations.
Zinger fears for his ice cream, which he wants to sell to Palestinians and Israelis wherever they are, whether in Tel Aviv, settlements, or anywhere else.
“We cannot boycott Israeli citizens for political reasons,” he says, explaining that his refusal to comply with the parent company’s decision led to it not renewing the manufacturing agreement that expires next year.
While the Beer Tuvia plant continues to operate in the remaining months before the contract expires, employees fear for their fate.
“I’m afraid for my job and the jobs of my friends who work here,” says Ayelet Damlaw, 38, a quality control officer at the factory. “It’s not easy to suddenly find out that you might lose your job.”
On social media, following initial calls for a boycott of the giant brand, the Israelis made several calls to support the local franchise opposing the parent company’s decision.
“I came to express my support” for the local product, Moshe Weizmann said during his visit to the ice cream factory, while his wife and two children (4 and 13 years old) were enjoying shopping with an abundance of offers.
“We have to separate politics from ice cream,” added the man from the town of Ofakim.
The salesman working in the factory, Omer Granada, 19, expressed his surprise, as “more people come than before to buy ice cream to support us.”
Zinger, who acquired the Ben & Jerry franchise 35 years ago, remains “optimistic” that the American group will reverse its decision, as did Airbnb a while ago.
At the time, the online home and apartment rental platform announced that it had abandoned bids in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, before reversing its decision.
The ice war comes in the wake of a missile war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which recently stopped after declaring a truce in which international and regional powers contributed.