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Illinois divests pension funds from Unilever over Ben & Jerry’s settlement boycott

State follows several others in pulling money from ice cream firm’s parent company; move lauded by Israel and mainstream Jewish groups, poo-pooed by dovish activists

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Ben & Jerrys 'Pecan Resist' ice-cream, launched October 2018. (Ben & Jerry's)
Ben & Jerrys 'Pecan Resist' ice-cream, launched October 2018. (Ben & Jerry's)

Illinois authorities voted on Wednesday to divest state pension funds from Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, which announced earlier this year that it would cease selling its products in the West Bank.

Illinois joins a handful of other states that have made the same decision, thanks to legislation passed in a majority of states that penalizes companies that boycott Israel or its settlements in the West Bank. Arizona, Florida New Jersey and New York were ahead of Illinois in the decision.

At least three other states have launched reviews required to ultimately divest their pension funds as well.

The Illinois Investment Policy Board vote to add Unilever to the state’s prohibited entity list was unanimous, with seven members voting in favor and none against. The total value of the state’s pension funds was not immediately clear.

The decision was welcomed by several prominent mainstream Jewish organizations as well as the Israeli Consulate in Chicago.

“Israel has always claimed that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be reached through direct, bilateral negotiations between the two sides,” said the head of the mission, Yinam Cohen. “Any third party’s attempts to predetermine the parameters of the final status agreement are counterproductive to solving the conflict.”

Before the vote, 21 Illinois-based activists, including ones on the board of the dovish J Street and Americans for Peace Now, penned a letter to the panel urging it against divestment, The Forward reported.

The activists argued that the anti-boycott law in Illinois wrongly conflated the settlements with Israel proper in a divergence from federal United States policy.

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 come into force when its agreement with the local manufacturing and distribution licensee expires at the end of 2022.

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