Saturday, July 24, 2021

Coming soon to Israel: Judea and Samaria’s Ben & Jerry’s, a copycat brand


A nonprofit group says its plans to knock off Ben & Jerry’s in Israel — and it’s itching to go to court if the ice cream maker tries to stop it. 

The Shurat HaDin Law Center in Tel Aviv has applied to distribute Ben & Jerry’s frozen desserts in the West Bank under the name “Judea and Samaria’s Ben & Jerry’s” — arguing that the Vermont-based company forfeited its trademark rights when it said it would be freezing sales in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” 

If approved, it would sell iconic Ben & Jerry’s flavors like Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia in the region — as well as new flavors like “Frozen Chosen People,” according to a mockup of the rival brand, which looks just like original except that it includes a pic of Theodor Herzl, the bushy-bearded father of the modern Zionist movement. 

In a July 23 letter to the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, the Law Center said that it registered a trademark for Judea and Samaria’s Ben & Jerry’s with Israel’s Justice Ministry.

“We will now become the lawful owners of the Ben & Jerry’s name in Judea and Samaria,” said the letter, referring to the historical Hebrew names for areas of the West Bank where Ben & Jerry’s plans to doing business.

The organization is already in discussions with several ice cream manufacturers to produce a copycat Ben Jerry’s product complete with the same black-and-white cow grazing under a blue sky on the packaging, said Shurat HaDin’s president and the letter’s author, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner. 

And it plans to operate ice cream parlors under the famous brand. “We will copy them,” Leitner said. 

A ruling on whether Judea and Samaria’s Ben & Jerry’s is legal could come down in a matter of weeks, Leitner added. 

Unilever didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The legal group would also welcome a challenge by Ben & Jerry’s to its trademark plans.

In 2019, it sued Airbnb in Delaware court after the home-sharing business said it would remove listings of properties located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Airbnb reversed its decision as a result of the suit, which claimed the company was discriminating against Airbnb hosts and guests based on their religion.

Leitner’s goal in the ice cream case, she told The Post, is to force Unilever to defend its trademark in court. She wants the conglomerate, which bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, to explain “why they do business in (other) occupied territories and they don’t want to do business in Israel.” She pointed to Crimea and South Sudan as examples. 

“This step we’ve taken forces their hand. I don’t think they thought this out very carefully,” she said.

Ben & Jerry’s announcement to pull out of areas occupied by Israel since 1967 — namely the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip — sparked a firestorm that continues to burn hot. 

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett earlier this week warned British-based Unilever that its actions would have “severe consequences.” Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, wrote a letter to governors of 35 US states asking them to condemn Ben & Jerry’s decision. 

“We must stand united and send an unequivocal message that this will not be tolerated,” according to reports of the letter. 

Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, meanwhile, has called for a ban on all Ben & Jerry’s sales in his state, which passed a law last year preventing Oklahoma from doing business with companies engaged in a boycott of Israel.

Several supermarkets have also taken a stand on the issue, including the Big Apple’s Morton Williams, which is reducing its Ben & Jerry’s inventory by 70 percent in the wake of the announcement. It has also agreed to stop promoting the brand, as The Post first reported Monday.

An Albany-based graphic designer, who’d worked for Ben & Jerry’s for 21 years quit her job, publicly announcing her decision on social media, as The Post reported.

“Effective immediately, I have quit my job of 21 years at Ben & Jerry’s, over the statement on Israel,” the employee, Susannah Levin, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

Unilever, meanwhile, has sought to distance itself from the announcement, saying the decision was made independently by Ben & Jerry’s, which has control over its messaging and branding.

“Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel,” CEO Alan Jope said Thursday. “This was a decision that was taken by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board in line with an acquisition agreement that we signed 20 years ago.”

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