Florida, Illinois and Maryland readying bans on Unilever from state contracts and investment over ice cream boycott.
Florida, Maryland and Illinois are reexamining their relationship with the ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, as well as its parent company, Unilever, after the company announced last month that it will no longer sell its products in what the company deemed “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” which includes the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem.
Those states, and more than 30 others, have laws against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
The state of Florida notified Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream, on Tuesday that it has 90 days to cease its “boycott of Israel” or face a ban on contracts and investments with the Sunshine State. Unilever, an international conglomerate, is based in London.
It comes after Florida state officials held talks with Unilever’s investor-relations department on July 28 and received an indication that “the parent company has no current plan to prevent Ben & Jerry’s from terminating business activities in Israeli-controlled territories.”
“As a matter of law and principle, the state of Florida will not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the Israeli people,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“By placing Ben & Jerry’s Fortune 500 parent company Unilever on our ‘List of Scrutinized Companies That Boycott Israel,’ Florida is sending a message to corporate America that we will defend our strong relationship with the Jewish state. I will not stand idly by as woke corporate ideologues seek to boycott and divest from our ally, Israel,” DeSantis added.
In a letter to the governor, the State Board of Administration of Florida, which manages the assets of the state’s retirement plan and provides investment services to governmental entities, said Ben & Jerry’s actions violate state statutes.
Those statutes define a boycott of Israel as “refusing to deal, terminating business activities or taking other actions to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories in a discriminating manner.”
In Illinois, a committee of the state’s Investment Policy Board plans to warn Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever that it must walk back on the company’s decision to stop selling ice-cream in Israeli settlements or risk facing divestment by the state.
The Israeli Boycott Restrictions Committee will hold a meeting during which they will approve setting a 90-day deadline for the British-based Unilever to reverse the decision by the Vermont-based ice-cream company, committee chairman Andy Lappin said last week, as reported by The Associated Press
“We’ll meet in the next week or so just for this issue, asking the board to send a letter to Unilever giving it 90 days to confirm or deny” the new policy, said Lappin. “In this case, it was a blatantly open statement made by the chairman of Ben & Jerry’s, and we need to determine if Unilever deems it appropriate to walk the statement back.”
A date has not been set for the meeting, but it will specifically address the ice-cream maker’s July 19 announcement about boycotting the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
And in Maryland, Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith wrote in a letter on Monday that the state will abide by Gov. Larry Hogan’s 2017 anti-BDS executive order and review the state’s contracts with Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever.
“ … In October of 2017, Governor Hogan reaffirmed the State’s commitment through the issue of Executive Order 01.01.2017.25, which ‘prohibits all executive branch agencies controlled by the governor from entering into a procurement contract with a business entity unless it certifies that it will, for the duration of its contractual obligations, refrain from [a] boycott of Israel,’ ” stated Wobensmith’s letter.
“The state will review state contracts to determine whether Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, have an existing contract with the state of Maryland and the state will respond accordingly,” the letter continued.
Wobensmith’s letter was addressed to Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Howard Libit and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington executive director Ron Halber, who on July 23 wrote a joint letter to Hogan citing the executive order in light of Ben & Jerry’s actions.
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