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Arizona stake in parent firm Unilever will be 0 by Sept. 21

Arizona divesting all state funds from Ben & Jerry’s due to settlement boycott

State treasurer says won’t allow taxpayer cash to go to ‘anti-Semitic, discriminatory efforts against Israel’; move includes $143m of investment in parent company Unilever

Ice cream containers at the Ben and Jerry's factory near Kiryat Malakhi, on July 21, 2021. (Flash90)
Ice cream containers at the Ben and Jerry's factory near Kiryat Malakhi, on July 21, 2021. (Flash90)

Arizona announced that it will divest all state funds from Ben and Jerry’s because the ice cream giant’s recently announced boycott of Israeli settlements violates state laws. It is the first US state to take action, but seven other states have launched reviews that could lead to similar outcomes.

The measure will also apply to parent company Unilever, State Treasurer Kimberly Yee said Tuesday, in what will see $143 million of investments pulled from the multinational consumer goods firm.

“As Arizona Treasurer, I’ve divested all state funds from Ben & Jerry’s for boycotting Israel,” Yee tweeted. “Israel is and will continue to be a major trade partner of AZ. ”

“#IStandWithIsrael and I will not allow taxpayer dollars to go towards anti-Semitic, discriminatory efforts against Israel,” she wrote.

In a statement from her office, Yee explained that “I gave Unilever PLC, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, an ultimatum: 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.”

Arizona’s investments in Unilever were reduced from $143 million as of June 30 to just $50 million Tuesday and by September 21 will do down to zero, the statement said.

“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,” Yee added. “Arizona will not do business with companies that are attempting to undermine Israel’s economy and blatantly disregarding Arizona’s law.”

Then Republican Arizona state Sen. Kimberly Yee at the Capitol in Phoenix, on May 6, 2016. (Bob Christie/AP)

Last week Yee sent a letter to Unilever warning that, in violation of Arizona law, it was participating in a boycott of Israel by allowing its subsidiary Ben and Jerry’s to embargo the Jewish State.

Under Arizona law, the state may not conduct business with any person or company that boycotts Israel, which includes limiting commercial operations in Israel or territory controlled by Israel, the letter stressed.

Unilever has told the state that Ben and Jerry’s decision was not an endorsement of the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, the AZ Central website reported Tuesday.

There are 34 states in total that require their governments to stop doing business with companies that boycott Israel — and 21 of those, like Arizona, include West Bank settlement boycotts in their definitions.

So far eight states are known to have triggered similar reviews that could result in divesting from Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever. In addition to Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Maryland and Rhode Island have launched formal proceedings.

There was a furious backlash against the ice cream company over its decision, announced in July, to stop selling its products in what it called “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” presumably the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Ben & Jerry’s said it would cut ties with its Israeli manufacturer and distributor and end sales over the Green Line from the end of 2022.

Unilever has stated that it hopes to continue doing business in Israel proper and opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s have said they do not endorse BDS but oppose Israel’s “illegal occupation.” However, is not clear if Ben and Jerry’s will continue to be available in Israel at all when the ban takes effect at the end of next year, as Israeli law forbids discrimination against Israeli citizens in the territories.

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