Workers at the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Israel: “Suddenly there is one about us”

For the past decade, Simon Tabakol has been working as a quality manager at the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in the Beer Tuvia industrial area, at the entrance to Kiryat Malachi. In the last day, it has been following the storm caused by the ice cream giant’s announcement that it will stop selling its products in the territories of Judea and Samaria. Among other things, Tabakol also saw on social media the photos of a variety of Israelis, including Economy Minister Orna Barbibai and singer Idan Amidi, who documented themselves throwing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream boxes in the trash in protest of the company’s decision. “Our ice creams are the highest quality on the market today, everything is made from fine cream, every taste of our ice cream is a delicious experience, and to see it thrown in the trash – it’s awful,” says Tabakol.

160 workers are currently employed in the only factory in the country that produces Ben & Jerry’s products. “We are separated from world society,” says Tabkol. “There are also hard-working people here, production workers, who work very hard, give from the heart and soul. The workers of Israeli society are not to blame, and everything that happens now hurts us. It’s a terrible feeling, I’m used to being on the giving, positive side. “It’s up to us, when we have nothing to do with it. It’s a decision of the global company, while we are privately owned by a franchisee.”

Unwilling to do so, local Ben & Jerry’s ice cream workers found themselves at the heart of the storm, after announcing that “ice cream sales in the Occupied Palestinian Territories do not match our values, and we have received inquiries from our customers and partners as well.” The company, founded in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfeld, said that following the refusal of the Israeli franchisee, Avi Singer, to stop selling its products in the settlements, he was told that the existing contract ending at the end of next year would not be extended. . Singer himself claimed in the media that the company had been pressured by the BDS movement. This decision has already led to a number of consequences: Among others, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United States, Gilad Ardan, addressed 35 governors of states in the United States where there is legislation against BDS and the boycott of Israel and called on them to take legal action against society. Bennett informed the CEO of Unilever, which owns the ice cream company, that Israel will act vigorously against the boycott of the settlements.

“It was a shock, I was shocked,” Tabakol now admits. “There are hard feelings. People sent me messages, WhatsApps. At first the news came out only with the reference of world society, when my father, the franchisee in Israel, was not even given the stage to express his position and his side. It was not easy. Send me links to articles, “And I explained that we, the Israeli company, did not agree in any way not to distribute our products throughout the State of Israel, that we were not connected to the decision of the global company, that it was a move by the BDS. It undermined me.”

What is the atmosphere among the company’s employees?
“Our heart is here, we are at work most of the day, giving of ourselves everything that can be given to the company, and it hurts a lot. The day after the announcement we came to work as usual, we continue to produce, and I very much hope we continue to work. “It is still very fresh. We are really in the eye of the storm, we still do not know what is going to happen and where it will lead, there are concerns among everyone. We call on the entire Israeli public to continue to buy and enjoy our quality and excellent ice cream and strengthen us and the company’s employees.”

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Photo: Avshalom Shashoni)

Great vision

“Suddenly after so many years of saying positive things about us and that we are always on the positive side of doing things for the community and the environment, suddenly being on that side of being attacked and talking about a boycott is surprising and unpleasant,” adds Shani Rubinstein, senior assistant at the company. 20 years. “But along with the attacks very quickly we also got very broad support.”

How did you feel when you saw the pictures of the ice creams being thrown in the trash?
“The feeling is very unpleasant, a hard feeling in the stomach even. These are people who may have just read the headline without hearing our side, in what we believe. We absolutely want to continue selling the ice cream to all Israeli society and everywhere in the country and we will continue to do so. After hearing the reaction “Many of us also turn to them. Many also turn to us to express support in the face of the decision of Ben & Jerrys Israel, that despite what Ben & Jerrys Global has stated, we do continue to sell.”

Do people today fear for their livelihood?
“The atmosphere here is very family. It is a small factory with a big vision, a company that has developed and grown on all the values ​​of the home and small factory of yesteryear. Of course there is concern for livelihood, there are quite a few people working here for 20 years and 30 years. “.

What is your message to consumers?
“Let them know that Ben & Jerry’s Israel is not under Unilever, that the owner of the company is a private franchisee, and that our agenda is to continue selling throughout the country. We will be happy for consumers to encourage the Israeli industry, buy ice cream and support us especially during this period.”

“The headline is annoying”

“I want to tell consumers to keep buying Ben & Jerry’s and pay attention to the small details as well. This is not our decision, we love the country in all its parts,” adds Gabi Sheetrit, the company’s maintenance manager, who has worked there for over 25 years. “I started here as a technician, I would fix refrigerators at first. I remember myself traveling to places in the territories, when I needed an escort to get there. It was scary, but we would go in there because it’s part of the job. Everything that happens now is really not real. We do. We market in these places and we will continue to market. “

How have you been feeling for the last two days?
“When I got the first message from all sorts of guys with the headline that Ben & Jerrys is not selling in the territories, I felt it was a hit. I had to explain to everyone why it was wrong and they would read the news to the end. I felt like they were giving me a box in the stomach. “It’s going to happen to us, the employees, what happens next. It’s like a home for us, we love the place, I sometimes call my CEO ‘Daddy’ by mistake.”

Sheetrit also did not find it easy to see the ice cream packages thrown in the trash as an act of protest. “It’s a heartache,” he says. “We here invest so much in ice cream, and people underestimate. These are people who do not think enough, it’s like going after the herd. How can you throw such ice cream in the trash and not eat it?”

Are you able to understand their anger?
“I understand the anger, because people love the country, and the headline is annoying. Even when I read about artists who do not want to perform in the country, it annoys me because I am a Zionist. But customers need to understand that it is not us, not us came this decision. We do not belong “For the global company, it’s a franchisee’s private business. The atmosphere is not really pleasant now, everyone cares, it’s a good place to work for everyone. Even my children suffer. Their friends know I work there, so they are disgusted from every direction, and they also ask me what’s going on.”

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