By Jessica DiNapoli and Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Unilever (NYSE:) plc asked a U.S. judge to dismiss a lawsuit by Ben & Jerry’s over the sale of its Israeli ice cream business, saying the subsidiary’s “insistence on taking sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gives its board no authority to stop or even sue over the sale.
In a filing on Friday afternoon in Manhattan federal court, Unilever said Ben & Jerry’s board “is no ordinary board.”
The board, it said in the filings, has some responsibility to preserve its “social mission” and safeguard the brand under the shareholder agreement from 2000, when Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s. But Unilever said that the board cannot sue.
Unilever also said the board’s “recent insistence on taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict created an untenable situation” for both sides.
Ben & Jerry’s could not immediately be reached for comment.
The maker of Cherry Garcia and Chubby Hubby ice cream originally sued Unilever in July to block the sale of its business in Israel and the occupied West Bank to local licensee Avi Zinger.
Ben & Jerry’s products have been on sale in Israel for more than three decades, but the company said last year that West Bank sales were inconsistent with its values.
In August, a judge rejected Ben & Jerry’s bid to immediately halt such sales.
Last month, Ben & Jerry’s board renounced the sale of its ice cream by Zinger, saying his products “should not be confused with the products” made by Ben & Jerry’s.
“The sale of products bearing any Ben & Jerry’s insignia in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is against our values,” the board said.
In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Unilever also said Ben & Jerry’s waited too long to claim that its trademark rights were “covertly” taken away more than 20 years ago, and that accusations underlying the claim were a matter of public record.
(This story has been refiled to fix a spelling error in paragraph 1)