New Jersey moves to divest from Ben & Jerry’s over anti-Israel boycott

New Jersey moves to divest from Ben & Jerry’s over anti-Israel boycott

The State of New Jersey has warned Unilever that it will divest from the company within 90 days unless it can prove that the decision taken by its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to cut ties with Israel does not constitute a boycott.

The state’s Treasury Department told Unilever it had determined that “the company boycotts the goods, products or businesses of Israel, boycotts those doing business with Israel, or boycotts companies operating in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories.”

In a letter to the British-based company dated September 2, it explained that the company had 90 days to prove it had not engaged in a boycott that involved Israel or Israeli-controlled territories before any divestment action is taken.

The Treasury Department explained to the British-based Unilever that state law prohibits investment in firms that boycott Israel and mandates a divestment from such firms.

New Jersey is one of seven states that are either in the process of divesting from Unilever or which are contemplating such action. The others are New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Maryland and Rhode Island, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

A Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Israel. (credit: FLICKR COMMONS/JTA)

On August 3, Florida similarly issued a 90-day warning to Unilever.

To date, only Arizona has announced a full divestment. As of September 21, it will have withdrawn all of its investments from Unilever, totaling $143 million.
The eight American states moved on the matter after Ben & Jerry’s independent board announced in July that it would end its contract with the Israeli franchise as of December 2022.
Although a Ben & Jerry’s factory is located in southern Israel, the board took issue with the franchise sale of its product to West Bank settlements. The Vermont-based global ice cream company ended its contract with the Israeli Ben & Jerry’s franchise after it rejected a demand to halt sales over the pre-1967 lines.

The independent Ben & Jerry’s board has made it clear that its intention was to halt all financial ties with Israel, but the CEOs of Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s modified that decision and spoke of continuing ice cream sales through another franchise that would not sell to settlements. To date, however, no action has been taken to allow Ben & Jerry’s to remain in Israel. 

The president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, Eric Fingerhut, praised the actions of the New Jersey State Treasury.

“We are proud of New Jersey’s Jewish Federations’ tireless efforts to combat boycotts and delegitimization of Israel.

“Today’s preliminary decision by the New Jersey Division of Investment – like those of other state governments around the country with which Jewish federations work – sends a strong message that boycotts and discrimination against America’s staunch ally Israel are unacceptable and only serve to undermine the cause of peace.”

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