…Ben & Jerry’s—famous for its unique ice cream flavors as well as its outspokenness on social issues—waded into its most contentious debate yet, announcing that it would stop selling ice cream in “occupied Palestinian territory” in the West Bank. The decision was controversial, but it’s unlikely the company had any choice whether to take a stand, says Yakov Bart, associate professor of marketing at Northeastern.
The move garnered immediate and intense debate from consumers: applause from pro-Palestine consumers and ire from their pro-Israel counterparts, as well as backlash from Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett. In its announcement, Ben & Jerry’s said it wouldn’t pull out of Israel altogether, vowing to stay in the country “through a different arrangement.” Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, also announced on Thursday that it remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel.
“Taking a strong position on a fraught issue such as Israel and Palestine is a much riskier move than perhaps some of its other stances,” says Bart, who studies the effect of social media on marketing and is the Joseph G. Riesman Research Professor in Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business.
“On the other hand, because Ben & Jerry’s is famous for taking a stand in other social movements, not taking a position on this one would also have been a strong message to consumers,” he says.