State Treasurer informs Unilever that $143 million in investments will be reduced to zero by Sept. 21.
By Pesach Benson, United With Israel
Arizona became the first U.S. state to divest itself of holdings in Ben & Jerry’s parent company over the ice cream maker’s boycott of Judea and Samaria.
State Treasurer Kimberly Yee announced the decision on Tuesday, during Rosh Hashanah.
“I gave Unilever PLC, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, an ultimatum to reverse the action of Ben & Jerry’s or divest itself of Ben & Jerry’s to come into compliance with Arizona law, or face the consequences. They chose the latter,” Yee said in a statement.
“It does not matter how much investment Unilever PLC has in Israel, with Ben & Jerry’s decision to no longer sell its product in the West Bank, the companies are in violation of the law in Arizona. Arizona will not do business with companies that are attempting to undermine Israel’s economy and blatantly disregarding Arizona’s law,” the statement added.
The state treasurer’s office oversees $23 billion in assets, according to the treasurer’s web site.
Unilever is based in London and its 400 brands include a wide variety of familiar consumer goods such as Dove personal care products, Lipton tea, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Sunlight soap and, of course, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
In an email to Richard Williams of Unilever’s investor relations, Yee said that she had already scaled back the state’s investments in the conglomerate from $143 million to $50 million, and that the number would be reduced to zero by Sept. 21.
Unilever argues that when it acquired the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, it allowed the ice cream company to keep its board of directors and make independent decisions in keeping with its values of social justice. The board is headed by Anuradha Mittal, who has supported radical Palestinian NGOs.
The company’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, remain active in the business but have no decision-making authority. In July, the two co-wrote a New York Times essay supporting the boycott.
Unilever also argues that the ice cream company is only boycotting Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, but continues to do business with Israel. But Ben & Jerry’s board originally intended to boycott all of Israel, only being prevented from doing so by Unilever.
Yee, who is running for governor, didn’t accept the parent company’s arguments.
“The fact remains that Ben & Jerry’s is a legal subsidiary of Unilever and due to the decision by Ben & Jerry’s, continues to be in violation of Arizona law,” Yee wrote, calling the boycott “anti-Semitic” and “discriminatory.”
“As Arizona’s Chief Banking and Investment Officer, I stand with Israel and I will not allow taxpayer dollars to go towards anti-Semitic, discriminatory efforts against Israel.”
More than 30 states have similar laws against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
On August 3, the state of Florida added Unilever to its list of “scrutinized companies.” If the Ben & Jerry’s boycott isn’t reversed within 90 days, the state will no longer invest in, or enter into contracts with Unilever or its subsidiaries.
Israel does not differentiate between the settlements of Judea and Samaria and the rest of its territory. When home-rental company Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer list properties there, Israel harshly condemned the move. In the face of Israeli pressure, the U.S. state laws, and litigation in U.S. and Israeli courts, Airbnb reversed itself.
Associated Press contributed to this report.