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.


Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

  • Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labour union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a "social contract" to tackle national challenges
  • The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government and both its main labor and commerce unions agreed on Friday to start talks on Monday over economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue program.
State news agency TAP reported that Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labor union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a “social contract” to tackle national challenges, citing a government statement.
The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page.
The labor union, which represents a vast syndicate of workers, has been a staunch critic of IMF economic reforms proposed by the government, including subsidy cuts, a public sector wage freeze and the restructuring of state-owned companies.
It previously said, such reforms would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.
Tunisia is seeking $4 billion in IMF support amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, though diplomat sources told Reuters any IMF program approved would be unlikely to reach that level.
The IMF wants the UGTT, a powerful union that has a million members and has previously paralyzed parts of the economy in protest, to formally agree to government reforms.
Efforts to secure the IMF bailout have been complicated by Tunisia’s political upheavals since President Kais Saied seized most powers a year ago, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree.
Last month, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum. Official figures showed that 31 percent of Tunisians took part, but opposition groups have rejected the figure, calling it inflated.


Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Updated 12 August 2022

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

  • It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border
  • The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday

BEIRUT: Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region transferred to the Iraqi government more than 600 relatives of Daesh group members who were detained at the notorious Al-Hol camp, a monitor said Friday.
It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border.
In the latest transfer, around “620 people, relatives of Daesh members, left Al-Hol,” coordinated between the camp administration and the Iraqi government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday, an official in the Kurdish administration told AFP.
Thousands of foreign extremists joined Daesh as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared by the group across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged the militants from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded displaced camps, of which Al-Hol is Syria’s largest.
More than 100 people, including many women, were murdered in Al-Hol over an 18-month period, the UN said in June, calling for camp residents to be returned home.
But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.
The first repatriation of Iraqi families from Al-Hol, involving around 300 people, took place in May last year.
Iraq should repatriate 500 families in total from Al-Hol this year, the official Iraqi New Agency announced on Wednesday.
In addition to the returned family members, the Iraqi government also received this week about 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters and leaders who were detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Observatory.
The SDF spearheaded the fight against Daesh in Syria with the support of the US-led coalition.
In early June, Iraq repatriated another 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters who were detained by Kurdish forces. They were among 3,500 Iraqis held in Syrian Kurdish prisons, a senior military official said at the time.
In April, a senior Iraqi security official said the Al-Hol camp is a security threat and should be dismantled.
It houses around 55,000 people, the UN reported in June.


Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

Updated 12 August 2022

Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

  • Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July
  • Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday

BAGHDAD: Thousands of followers of Moqtada Al-Sadr held a mass prayer outside parliament in Baghdad on Friday in a show of support for the powerful Shiite cleric who has called for Iraq’s judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of next week.
Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July after a 10-month political stalemate that followed elections last October. Sadr was the biggest winner but failed to form a government free of Iranian-backed parties.
He withdrew his lawmakers from parliament and is now preventing the chamber from electing a new government and is demanding early elections.
On Wednesday he said the judiciary must dissolve parliament by the end of next week. If not “the revolutionaries will take another stand,” he said without elaborating.
Outside parliament on Friday thousands of Sadr supporters gathered for prayer. Most were dressed in black to mark the Muslim month of Muharram and some wore white capes symbolizing burial shrouds and their willingness to die.
“You will not break Iraq as long as Sadr is here,” an imam told the crowd from a big red stage set up outside parliament. “There is no going back from this revolution ... and the people will not give up their demands.”
In the intense summer heat, men picked their way through the worshippers and sprayed them with cold water. Some carried portraits of Sadr and his father, also a prominent cleric, as well as Iraqi flags.
“We have revolted and there is no going back,” said Mohammed Elwan, 40, carrying a portrait of Sadr.
Hamid Hussain, a father of five, said: “I am here to call for an early election and make sure that all the corrupt faces are excluded from the upcoming elections...I became unemployed because of the corrupt parties.”
Sadr’s opponents also accuse him of corruption. They say his loyalists have run some of Iraq’s most corrupt and dysfunctional government departments.
Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday, the latest in a series of protest and counter-protest in recent days which have led to fears of unrest.
Sadr counts millions of Iraqis among his followers and has shown he can still stir up gatherings by hundreds of thousands of supporters, mostly working-class Shiite Muslims, if he needs to exert political pressure.
His father Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr was killed more than 20 years ago for his outspoken opposition Saddam Hussein. When Saddam was topped in a US-led invasion in 2003 Sadr began an insurgency against US troops.
His new foes, however, are fellow Shiite leaders and parties mostly aligned with Iran, as Sadr has positioned himself as a nationalist who rejects foreign interference. Those groups, like Sadr, are backed by heavily armed militias, but do not hold the same sway as he does over masses of fanatical followers.


Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey’s ‘reconciliation’ call

Updated 12 August 2022

Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey’s ‘reconciliation’ call

  • Comments sparked calls for protests in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces
  • Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria

SYRIA: Protests broke out in Syria’s rebel-held north on Friday over a call from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for reconciliation between the Syrian government and opposition.
“We have to somehow get the opposition and the regime to reconcile in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace, we always say this,” Cavusoglu said Thursday, in remarks to diplomats.
The comments have sparked calls for protests after Friday weekly prayers in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces and their supporters, including in Al-Bab, Afrin and Jarablus.
Similar calls were made in Idlib, controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and other rebel groups, to gather at border crossings with Turkey.
Small protests already began overnight in some areas, including Al-Bab, where dozens gathered holding opposition slogans and chanting against Turkey.
Some demonstrators burned a Turkish flag, while others took down Turkey’s colors hung up around the city, an AFP photographer said.
Dozens of others gathered at the Bab Al-Salama crossing to Turkey, many shouting “death rather than indignity.”
Turkey’s top diplomat also revealed that he had held a short meeting in Belgrade in October with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Meqdad, adding that communication had resumed between the two countries’ intelligence agencies.
But he denied direct talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, despite long-standing calls from Russia for such dialogue.
Cavusoglu added that Turkey would continue its fight against “terrorism” in Syria, following warnings from Ankara since May that it could launch new strikes on Kurdish-held areas in north and northeast Syria.
Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria. Most have targeted Kurdish militants that Turkey links to a group waging a decades-long insurgency against it.
Cavusoglu’s comments have sparked widespread anger among the opposition, with renowned figure George Sabra writing on Facebook: “If Cavusoglu is concerned with reconciling with the Syrian regime, that is his business. As for the Syrians, they have a different cause for which they have paid and continue to pay the dearest price.”
About half a million people have died during Syria’s 11-year conflict, which has destroyed large swathes of the country and displaced millions of people.


Ethiopia says completes third filling of mega-dam reservoir

Updated 12 August 2022

Ethiopia says completes third filling of mega-dam reservoir

  • The development could raise further tensions with downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia has completed the third filling of its mega-dam reservoir on the Blue Nile, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Friday, a development that could raise further tensions with downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan.
The announcement comes a day after Ethiopia said it had launched electricity production from the second turbine at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which lies in the west of the country.
“Today as you see behind me, the third filling is complete,” Abiy said in images shown on state television from the dam site.
“Compared to last year, we have reached 600 meters which is 25 meters higher than the previous filling,” he said.
“The Nile is a gift of God given to us for Ethiopians to make use of it.”
The massive $4.2 billion dam, set to be the largest hydro-electric scheme in Africa, has been at the center of a regional dispute ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the project in 2011.
There is still no agreement between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan about the GERD’s operations despite talks held under the auspices of the African Union.
Cairo and Khartoum view it as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters, while Ethiopia deems it essential for the electrification and development of Africa’s second most populous nation.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, last month protested to the UN Security Council about the third refilling.
The process of filling the GERD’s vast reservoir, which has a total capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, began in 2020.
On Thursday, Abiy sought to reassure the two countries over the impact of dam and called for negotiations to reach an understanding.
“Any other option will not stop what we have started and will be futile,” he said, insisting that the third filling was not causing any water shortages downstream.
Ethiopia first began generating electricity from the GERD in February. Currently, the two turbines, out of a total of 13, have a capacity to generate 750 megawatts of electricity.
It is ultimately expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts, more than doubling Ethiopia’s current output.
Project manager Kifle Horo said Thursday that overall the dam was now more than 83 percent complete and that the goal was for it to be finished in the next two and a half years.
The 145-meter (475-foot) high structure straddles the Blue Nile in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of western Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan.
The project was initiated under former prime minister Meles Zenawi, the Tigrayan leader who ruled Ethiopia for more than two decades until his death in 2012.

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