Unilever sells Ben & Jerry’s Israeli business to defuse BDS row

A refrigerator bearing the Ben & Jerry's logo is seen at a food store in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 20, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 01 July 2022

Unilever sells Ben & Jerry’s Israeli business to defuse BDS row

  • Ice cream brand said it does “not agree” with the deal made by the parent company

JERUSALEM: Unilever this week sold its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream business in Israel to its local licensee for an undisclosed sum, aiming to smooth over a potentially damaging diplomatic row over the company’s political stance.
The deal comes after the US ice cream brand announced last year it would stop marketing products in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, saying that selling there was “inconsistent” with its values. Under the new arrangement Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will be available to all consumers in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Ben & Jerry’s has said it does “not agree” with the deal made by the parent company.
The episode highlighted the challenges facing consumer brands taking a stand on Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians, such as San Francisco-based Airbnb, which in 2019 reversed its decision to delist Israeli settlements.
The international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to pressure Israel to abide by international law in its treatment of the Palestinians. Israel says such boycotts are discriminatory and anti-Semitic.
On Wednesday, Israel’s foreign ministry called the Ben & Jerry’s deal “a huge victory.”
“We will fight delegitimization and the BDS campaign in every arena, whether in the public square, in the economic sphere or in the moral realm,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.
Last year, Israel condemned the sales boycott as “morally wrong” and said Unilever would face “severe consequences.” The consumer goods giant defended Ben & Jerry’s autonomy, but said it was “fully committed” to Israel and would find a solution by the end of this year.
Unilever had said previously it did not support the BDS movement, and reiterated that stance in a statement on Wednesday.
The new owner is the brand’s long-time Israeli ice cream licensee Avi Zinger, owner of American Quality Products. Zinger had sued Ben & Jerry’s after its decision in the West Bank, saying the company illegally severed their 34-year relationship.
“The new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership of its current licensee,” Unilever said.
A representative for the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s said the company does not agree with Unilever’s announcement and will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.
“We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the representative told Reuters.
Pension officials in at least six US states had restricted or sold Unilever stock or bonds to protest the Ben & Jerry’s decision, among them New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, and Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee. Representatives for all three told Reuters on Wednesday they would review Unilever’s move.
Billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz, who is joining the board of Unilever next month, was involved in the discussions to bring about the resolution, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization that supported the deal. Peltz is the chairman of the center’s board of governors.
Peltz met with Unilever CEO Alan Jope in September before Trian Partners, the investment fund Peltz runs, bought any shares, to discuss the situation, a person familiar with the matter said.
Trian Partners commended the new arrangement in a statement, saying that “respect and tolerance have prevailed.”
Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board maintained the right to decide on its social mission when it was bought by Unilever in 2000. But Unilever said it “reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement.”
Israel captured the West Bank, part of the territory Palestinians want for an independent state, in a 1967 Middle East war. Most countries consider Israeli settlements on Palestinian land to be illegal. Israel disputes this.
“The return of Ben and Jerry’s to Israeli settlements, which were built on Palestinian land, exposes it to international legal accountability and its name will be on the United Nations blacklist of companies operating in settlements,” The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Wasel Abu Yussef told Reuters.
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, said the deal sought to undermine the “principled decision” to stop selling the ice cream in Israeli settlements.
“What comes next may look and taste similar, but, without Ben & Jerry’s recognized social justice values, it’s just a pint of ice cream,” he said in a statement.
Ben & Jerry’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, no longer manage the brand but are well known for their commitment to social justice. The company has recently expressed strong support for the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights and electoral campaign finance reform.


Israeli armed forces kill Palestinian

Updated 3 sec ago

Israeli armed forces kill Palestinian

  • Mohammed Al-Shaham was left bleeding, and eyewitnesses said the Israelis prevented any attempt to provide him with first aid after he was shot
  • His father Ibrahim said special forces had raided the house, shot his son in the head from close range and left him bleeding on the ground for more than 40 minutes

RAMALLAH: Israeli armed forces killed a 21-year-old Palestinian in northern Jerusalem at dawn on Monday.

Mohammed Al-Shaham was left bleeding, and eyewitnesses said the Israelis prevented any attempt to provide him with first aid after he was shot.

His father Ibrahim said special forces had raided the house, shot his son in the head from close range, left him bleeding on the ground for more than 40 minutes, failed to provide an ambulance, arrested him, and later announced his death.

Another relative, Nasser Al-Shaham, said special forces had raided the Zughayer neighborhood of Kufr Aqab where the family lived, blowing up the main door upon reaching the apartment. Soldiers shot Mohammed at close range, leaving him to bleed for more than half an hour, he added.

The soldiers assaulted Mohammed's parents and siblings. They tied up the family and confined them to one room. Israeli army personnel searched the house, causing significant damage, and left with Mohammed, who was still bleeding.

They are still holding Mohammed’s body.

“We have been informed of the martyrdom of Mohammed, but we have not yet been informed of the date of receiving the body,” said Nasser.

Meanwhile, the UN called for an "immediate, comprehensive and independent investigation" into the young man's murder. The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, said in a tweet: "I am deeply disturbed by the killing of the Palestinian youth, Mohammed Al-Shaham, at the hands of the Israeli security forces in his home in Kufr Aqab, in disputed circumstances.

"This requires an immediate, thorough and independent investigation."

Senior PLO official Hussein Al-Sheikh said: “The crime of executing citizen Al-Shaham deserves an immediate and urgent international investigation.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayieh condemned the killing: “What happened is a major crime.”

Mosques mourned Mohammed's death, and clashes broke out in Kufr Aqab and Qalandia refugee camp.

Al-Shaham was a painter inside Israel and belonged to the Fatah movement. The army had previously shot him during clashes that coincided with its incursions into Qalandia and Kufr last year.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the heinous crime was an extension of the executions and field assassinations committed by the occupying forces.

“As the ministry views this crime and its nature very seriously, it will follow up on it at all levels, especially the International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council, and other legal levels of the United Nations, in the context of its continuous efforts to put an end to Israel's impunity.”

Israeli police claimed that Al-Shaham came out of his house carrying a knife and tried to stab their officers, who responded by shooting and neutralizing him.

But Ibrahim rejected this account. He also said his son had never been arrested and was not wanted by the Israeli army.

The Israeli army and police have killed 139 Palestinians this year.

The army arrested 24 Palestinians during a raid on Jenin and other parts of the West Bank at dawn on Monday.


Iran says Rushdie and supporters to blame for attack

Updated 15 August 2022

Iran says Rushdie and supporters to blame for attack

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently blamed Iran for inciting violence against Rushdie for generations
  • Iran’s former supreme leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini had called Muslims to kill the novelist in 1989

DUBAI: No one has the right to level accusations against Iran over Friday’s attack on Salman Rushdie, for which he is to blame after denigrating the world’s Muslims, the foreign ministry in Tehran said on Monday.

The novelist, who has lived under a death threat for decades since enraging clerical authorities in Iran through his writing, is recovering after being repeatedly stabbed at a public appearance in New York state.

In Iran’s first official reaction to Friday’s attack, ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said freedom of speech did not justify Rushdie’s insults against religion. His 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” is viewed by some Muslims as containing blasphemous passages.

“During the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than himself and his supporters worthy of ... reproach and condemnation,” Kanaani told a news briefing. “No one has the right to accuse Iran in this regard.”

Writers and politicians around the world have condemned the attack. His agent told Reuters that Rushdie had sustained severe injuries, including nerve damage in his arm and wounds to his liver, and was likely to lose an eye.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that Iranian state institutions had incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media had gloated about the attempt on his life.

The Indian-born writer has had a bounty on his head since “The Satanic Verses” was published in 1988. The following year, Iran’s then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling on Muslims to kill the novelist and anyone involved in the book’s publication.

In 1991, the novel’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi was stabbed to death. A former student of Igarashi’s on Monday renewed calls for his murder to be solved, the Ibaraki Shimbun newspaper reported.

A police spokesperson told Reuters that an investigation was still active and that the statute of limitations on the crime, which expired in 2006, could be lifted.

The novel’s Italian translator was wounded in 1991 and two years later its Norwegian publisher was shot and seriously wounded.

In 1998, Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie — who had lived in hiding for nine years — was over.

But in 2019, Twitter suspended Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s account over a tweet that said the fatwa against was “irrevocable.”

HARDLINE REACTIONS

Rushdie, 75, has lived relatively openly in recent years.

He was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York on the importance of the United States as a haven for targeted artists when police say a 24-year-old man rushed the stage and stabbed him.

Ministry spokesperson Kanaani said Rushdie had “exposed himself to popular outrage by insulting Islamic sanctities and crossing the red lines of 1.5 billion Muslims.”

Kanaani said Iran had no other information about the novelist’s suspected assailant except what had appeared in media.

The suspect, Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault at a court appearance on Saturday, his court-appointed lawyer, Nathaniel Barone, told Reuters.

An initial law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts showed he was sympathetic to Shiite extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), according to NBC New York. Washington accuses the IRGC of carrying out a global extremist campaign.

IRGC-affiliated Jam-e Jam and other hard-line Iranian state media outlets celebrated the attack and some Iranians voiced support for it online.

Matar is the son of a man from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, according to Ali Tehfe, the town’s mayor. Matar’s parents emigrated to the United States, where he was born and raised, the mayor said, adding he had no information on their political views.

The Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah holds significant sway in Yaroun, where posters of Khomeini and IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a US drone strike in 2020, adorned walls at the weekend.

A Hezbollah official told Reuters on Saturday that the group had no additional information on Friday’s attack.


Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties

Updated 15 August 2022

Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties

  • Attack took place in the vicinity of Al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet
BEIRUT: An attack with drones hit a compound run by American troops and US-backed Syrian opposition fighters in eastern Syria on Monday, the US military said, adding that there were no casualties or damage.
The military said the attack took place in the vicinity of Al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.
US and coalition troops are based at Al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter militants from the Daesh group. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces, stretching from Tehran all the way to Lebanon.
The military statement said coalition troops in coordination with opposition fighters — known as Maghaweir Al-Thowra — “responded to an attack by multiple unmanned aerial systems in the vicinity of Al-Tanf Garrison” on Monday morning.
It said the troops successfully engaged one of the drones preventing its impact while a second one detonated within the opposition forces’ compound, “resulting in zero casualties or reported damage.” The other attempted drone strikes were not successful, it added.
Maj. Gen. John Brennan, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force, condemned the drone strike. “Such attacks put the lives of innocent Syrian civilians at risk and undermine the significant efforts by our Partner Forces to maintain the lasting defeat of IS,” he said, using an acronym for the Daesh group.
The attack occurred hours after Israeli airstrikes on western and central Syria killed three soldiers, wounded three others and caused material damage.
A Syrian opposition war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Israeli strikes hit Syrian army positions where Iran-backed fighters are based.
Drone attacks on Al-Tanf have been rare.
In October last year, US officials said they believe Iran was behind a drone attack that month in Al-Tanf saying at the time that they believe that the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges. It said the drones hit both the US side of Al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.
The October attacks came days after an Israeli airstrike on central Syria.

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

Updated 15 August 2022

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

TEHRAN, Iran: An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country’s first public comments on the attack.
The comments by Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, come over two days after the attack on Rushdie in New York.
However, Iran has denied carrying out other operations abroad targeting dissidents in the years since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite prosecutors and Western governments attributing such attacks back to Tehran.
“We, in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the US, do not consider that anyone deserves blame and accusations except him and his supporters,” Kanaani said. “Nobody has right to accuse Iran in this regard.”
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed Friday while attending an event in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, his agent said. He was likely to lose the injured eye.
His assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the attack through his lawyer.
The award-winning author for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.” Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author.
Kanaani added that Iran did not “have any other information more than what the American media has reported.”

Freedom of speech does not justify Rushdie's insults upon religion in his writing, Kanaani said.
The West “condemning the actions of the attacker and in return glorifying the actions of the insulter to Islamic beliefs is a contradictory attitude,” Kanaani said.


Egyptians mourn 41 killed in Cairo Coptic church fire

Updated 15 August 2022

Egyptians mourn 41 killed in Cairo Coptic church fire

  • Witnesses to the fire Sunday morning described people rushing into the multi-story house of worship to save those trapped, but the rescuers were soon overwhelmed by heat and deadly smoke

CAIRO: Funerals were held in two Cairo churches Sunday evening for 41 victims of a fire that ripped through a Coptic Christian church during mass, forcing worshippers to jump out of windows.
The blaze, blamed on an electrical fault, hit the Abu Sifin church in densely populated Imbaba, a working class district west of the Nile River, part of Giza governorate in greater Cairo.
Hundreds gathered to pay their respects in and around the two Giza churches where clergymen prayed for the victims, according to AFP correspondents.
Pallbearers pushed through crowds of weeping mourners who reached for the coffins, including that of a priest at the church, Father Abdel-Messih Bekhit.
The Egyptian Coptic Church and the health ministry reported 41 dead and 14 injured in the blaze before emergency services brought it under control.
Witnesses to the fire Sunday morning described people rushing into the multi-story house of worship to save those trapped, but the rescuers were soon overwhelmed by heat and deadly smoke.
Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million Muslim-majority population.
“Everyone was carrying kids out of the building,” said Ahmed Reda Baioumy, who lives next to the church. “But the fire was getting bigger and you could only go in once or you would asphyxiate.”
Another witness, Sayed Tawfik, told AFP that “some threw themselves out of windows to escape the fire.” He pointed to a car bearing dents “left by a person who is now lying in the hospital with a broken arm and back.”
A resident of the area, Mina Masry, said emergency services were slow in responding. Ambulances took “over an hour to arrive” and fire trucks “nearly an hour, though their station is five minutes away.”
“If the ambulances had come on time, they could have rescued people,” Masry added.
A statement from the public prosecutor’s office indicated that asphyxiation caused the deaths, as there were “no visible injuries.”
The interior ministry said “forensic evidence revealed that the blaze broke out in an air-conditioning unit on the second floor of the church building” which also houses social services.
Father Farid Fahmy, of another nearby church, told AFP a short circuit caused the fire.
“The power was out and they were using a generator,” he said. “When the power came back, it caused an overload.”
In the morning, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on his Facebook page that he had “mobilized all state services” in response. He later said he had “presented his condolences by phone” to Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
He also directed the Armed Forces Engineering Authority to “take over the reconstruction and renovation” of the church, the presidency said in a statement.
Christian communities often complain that reconstruction of churches after devastating fires is marked by long delays and bureaucratic hurdles.
Giza’s governor ordered “urgent aid of 50,000 pounds (around $2,600) for the families of the deceased and 10,000 pounds for the injured.”
The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s foremost Muslim institution, expressed his condolences for “the tragic accident” and affirmed “the readiness of Al-Azhar hospitals to receive the injured.”
A statement from the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered his “deepest condolences” to the families of the victims.
Accidental fires are not uncommon in the sprawling megalopolis of Cairo, where millions live in informal settlements.
Baioumy, the neighbor, told AFP that firefighters were hampered by the church’s location “on a very narrow street.”
Egypt, with its often dilapidated and poorly maintained infrastructure, has suffered several deadly fires in recent years.
The Coptic minority has endured attacks and complained of discrimination in the north African country, the Arab world’s most populous.
Copts have been targeted in deadly attacks by Islamist militants, particularly after El-Sisi overthrew former Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013, with churches, schools and homes burnt down.
Copts also complain they have been left out of key state positions and they have deplored restrictive legislation for the construction and renovation of churches.
El-Sisi, the first Egyptian president to attend the Coptic Christmas mass every year, in February appointed the first ever Coptic judge to head the Supreme Constitutional Court, the country’s highest.

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