Ben & Jerry’s decision to withdraw its products from Israeli settlements in the disputed territories has US state officials threatening to turn their backs on the ice cream maker.
At least five states have responded to the famous progressive company’s move to stop selling ice cream in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” by activating measures that restrict the government’s business dealings with companies boycotting Israel.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has asked the State Board of Management to begin the process of placing Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on its list of scrutinized companies violating state sanctions, divestment and anti-boycott. [BDS] law, designed to put political and financial pressure on companies targeting Israel.
“If the State Board of Management affirmatively places Unilever and its corporate entities on the Scrutinized Companies List and these companies do not cease boycotting Israel as required by Florida law, the Board should refrain from acquiring any and all of Unilever’s assets in accordance with the law, ”Mr. DeSantis said in Thursday’s letter.
Other states that have taken a hard look at their ties to Ben & Jerry’s since the company’s July 19 announcement include Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said last week that he directed his office to examine whether Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever have engaged in activities that violate state anti-BDS statute.
“Ben and Jerry’s decision to boycott parts of Israel is shameful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Unilever, the parent company of Ben and Jerry, must reverse this ill-conceived decision.”
An estimated 35 states have passed anti-BDS laws since South Carolina became the first in 2015, and “21 of them explicitly include West Bank settlement boycotts in their definitions,” according to the Times of Israel.
New York has no such law, but still, the State Retirement Pool warned Unilever in a letter Friday that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is “concerned and concerned about reports suggesting that Ben & Jerry’s, a wholly owned subsidiary Total Unilever, is involved in BDS Activities. “
The letter cited the fund’s 2016 policy that “opinions The activities of BDS as a potential threat to Israel, its economy and, as a result, the relevant investments of the Fund. “
“Therefore, in accordance with the requirements of the Fund’s policy, this letter serves as notice that the Fund intends to include Unilever on our list of companies participating in BDS activity if these reports are correct.” said Liz Gordon, the fund’s executive director, in a letter published by the Jewish press.
State laws differ but generally fall into two camps: those that prohibit state contractors from boycotting Israel, and those that prohibit state funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel.
Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, asked his state officials to examine the government’s relationship with Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, citing the 2020 Oklahoma law that prohibits the government from entering into public contracts with companies boycotting Israel.
“Ben & Jerry’s is a subsidiary of Unilever Corporation, and Unilever has contracts across the country,” Lankford said last week in a Facebook video. “I am just challenging our state so that it can step up and stand on Israel’s side in this. If Ben & Jerry’s is going to take it out on Israel, our state has already made the decision as to what our response will be. “
He emphasized that state law does not apply to grocery stores and other private entities that sell Ben & Jerry’s.
“It doesn’t stop someone from buying Ben & Jerry’s. If you want to buy it at the supermarket, go ahead, “said Mr. Lankford, adding,” I’m personally going to buy Braum’s ice cream. “
A coalition of seven progressive groups led by J Street, which challenged the state’s moves, argued in a letter Monday to governors that enemies of Ben & Jerry’s decision had “mislabelled it as a boycott of Israel, a delegitimization. from Israel or an endorsement of the government. ” global BDS movement “.
“None of our organizations endorse boycotts of Israel or support the global BDS movement, and many of us actively advocate against them,” the letter said. “At the same time, like Ben & Jerry’s, we make a clear distinction between the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories that it militarily occupies.”
The Palestinian BDS National Committee hailed Ben & Jerry’s decision as a “great #BDS success,” tweeting that it “sent shockwaves through apartheid Israel reiterating its fear of the non-violent BDS movement and its growing impact. strategic throughout the world to isolate Israel’s oppressive regime. “
J Street’s letter noted that anti-BDS laws have faced free speech demands brought by the American Civil Liberties Union “because they have the potential to become weapons against political opponents and silence Palestinians and human rights defenders. humans.
“No matter how strongly one may disagree or oppose the rhetoric or goals of specific movements and efforts, the right to boycott is an important part of our democracy,” the progressive groups said.
The ACLU has won court victories in several states against anti-BDS laws, and some states reacted by revising their statutes.
For example, both Arizona and Texas in 2019 amended their laws requiring contractors to sign anti-BDS commitments to apply only to companies with 10 or more employees with contracts of more than $ 100,000, prompting the courts to dismiss the mandates. previously issued judicial
Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, argued that “anti-BDS laws do not prohibit expression or any other rights. They apply only to discriminatory conduct.
“There are many nondiscrimination provisions for any state contract,” he said. “Refusing to use taxpayer funds to subsidize discriminatory conduct is not a penalty, as there is no inherent right to obtain business from the state.”
Unilever was quick to emphasize its commitment to Israel after its Vermont-based subsidiary said it was “inconsistent with our values of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream being sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
Unilever CEO Alan Jope said in a conference call Thursday that the company “remains fully committed to our business in Israel.
“This was a decision that was made by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board of directors in line with an acquisition agreement that we signed 20 years ago,” said Mr. Jope on CNBC.
Under the 2000 acquisition agreement, Unilever said in a statement Monday that “we have always recognized the right of the brand and its independent Board to make decisions about its social mission.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which includes 53 groups, urged governors last week to determine whether Ben & Jerry’s violated state anti-BDS statutes.
“If the state invests in Unilever, we ask that it take immediate steps to divest,” said Thursday’s letter. “In addition, we ask that you determine whether the state has any contracts with Unilever and its subsidiaries that may violate state anti-BDS law.”
Ben & Jerry’s said that “we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we are ready. “