Florida to start divesting from Ben & Jerry’s parent firm over West Bank boycott

Deadline enacted in July comes into effect on Tuesday, 3 months after ice cream company announced policy against selling in West Bank

Pro-Israel demonstrators protest in New York City against Ben & Jerry's, over its settlement boycott on August 12, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)
Pro-Israel demonstrators protest in New York City against Ben & Jerry's, over its settlement boycott on August 12, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)

The US state of Florida is set to begin divesting from conglomerate Unilever over the boycott of West Bank settlements announced several months ago by its subsidiary the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company, according to local reports.

The move will take effect on Tuesday, three months after Governor Ron DeSantis ordered the State Board of Administration to add the London-based Unilever to its list of “scrutinized companies” that boycott Israel. This meant that starting 90 days from his order, if the position on Israel was not reversed — and it has not been — Florida will no longer invest in or contract business with Unilever or its subsidiaries.

“I have not seen any meaningful response from Unilever, period,” Florida’s SBA executive director, Ash Williams, said at a September cabinet meeting. “It’s a small part of our overall portfolio as you might imagine.”

According to the WFLA news site, the SBA’s investments in Unilever total about $139 million, out of its approximate $200 billion portfolio.

In July, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would no longer distribute its products in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” apparently referring to West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem. Ben & Jerry’s boycott policy will only come into force when its agreement with the local manufacturing and distribution licensee expires at the end of 2022.

Following the company’s announcement, Israeli Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan sent letters to the governors of the 35 US states that have enacted legislation against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, requesting that they sanction Ben & Jerry’s over the decision.

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on sale at a shop in Jerusalem, on July 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Last month, Arizona became the first state to pull the trigger on divesting from Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, in response to its settlement boycott.

Texas has officially added Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever to a list of companies that boycott Israel, a further step on the path to the state divesting some $100 million from the companies.

New Jersey has announced that it is on the path to follow suit, while New York, Illinois, Maryland, and Rhode Island have launched formal proceedings.

In an interview about the decision earlier this month, the company’s co-founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield — who sold the company decades ago and maintain no control over its operations — stressed that it was a boycott of settlements, not Israel as a whole.

But the pair struggled to justify singling out Israel for censure without taking action against countries and US states that enact policies they vocally disagree with.

“I don’t know. It’s a good question,” said Cohen, when asked why the company would continue to sell in Georgia and Texas despite restrictive voting rights and abortion access laws.

“I don’t know what that would accomplish.” He shrugged and repeated, “I don’t know. I think you ask a really good question and I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit.”

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