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Kathy Hochul

Is New York Governor Kathy Hochul acting decisively against BDS?

By Pesach Benson, United with Israel

A group of 16 Jewish organizations have called on New York Governor Kathy Hochul to follow through on a promise to divest state holdings in Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s.

Following intense pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced in July it would no longer sell its frozen treats in Judea and Samaria. The Vermont-based business is also ending its association with Avi Zinger, who currently manufactures and distributes Ben & Jerry’s products in Israel.

New York is one of 35 states with laws against BDS. In accordance with those laws, a number of states have divested, or begun the process, of dumping their holdings in the ice cream maker’s parent company, Unilever. The London-based conglomerate also stands to be frozen out of government contracts.

These laws are credited with quickly reversing Airbnb’s boycott of Israeli settlements in 2019.

Renewing New York’s anti-BDS law was one of the first measures Hochul took when she became governor in August.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli confirmed in October that Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s engaged in BDS activities, and in November, Hochul gave Unilever 90 days to clarify its position on the boycott before the state would divest its holdings.

Since Then, Nothing

However, nothing has happened since then, prompting a coalition of 16 pro-Israel organizations to sign a letter calling on Hochul to follow through on her promise to divest.

The letter was organized by Americans Against Antisemitism and written by the Zionist Organization of America. Organizations signing the letter included Students Supporting Israel, AMIT, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, the Coalition for Jewish Values, and the Lawfare Project, among others.

“Several states have already taken forceful action against Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s for their participation in a boycott targeting Israel, including but not limited to Florida, Illinois, Colorado and Texas. Arizona and New Jersey have already divested all of their state funds from Unilever,” the letter noted.

“At least one New York fund has also already taken action, despite the fact that you have not yet placed Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s on New York State’s boycott list. In October 2021, the State Comptroller, the sole manager of the State’s Common Retirement Fund, announced that it would divest its current holdings in Unilever, which total $111 million,” the letter added.

The governor’s press secretary, Hazel Crampton-Hays, said in a statement that Unilever’s initial response to Hochul “did not include important clarifying information central to formulating a determination under the Executive Order,” and the conglomerate was given another 60 days to provide clarification.

According to The Forward, Unilever will be added to New York’s list of companies found to be engaging in BDS if a satisfactory response is not provided by July 6. New York’s list already includes 11 companies.

Unilever’s 400 brands include a wide variety of familiar consumer goods such as Dove personal care products, Lipton tea, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Sunlight soap.