New Jersey moves to divest from Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever over settlement ban
State gives ice cream maker's parent firm, which is headquartered there, 90 days to change course after review reaches preliminary conclusion company breached anti-BDS laws
WASHINGTON — Following in Arizona’s footsteps, the state of New Jersey announced Tuesday that it could divest funds from Ben & Jerry’s, along with its parent company, Unilever, over the ice cream firm’s decision to cease sales in Israeli settlements, becoming the second US state to do so.
The director of the New Jersey Division of Investment penned a letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope earlier this month notifying him that the state’s review of Ben & Jerry’s July boycott decision reached a preliminary conclusion that the company had breached local laws requiring divestment from firms that boycott Israel.
While Ben & Jerry’s sought to differentiate between Israel, where it expressed a desire to continue its business, and the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” that it said it would boycott, the New Jersey review determined that the latter position was akin to boycotting Israel according to state law.
In only reaching a preliminary conclusion, New Jersey authorities gave Unilever 90 days to convince Ben & Jerry’s to walk back the announcement before the state would move forward with the divestment of pension fund assets.
Those pension funds amount to $90 billion in New Jersey, though it was not immediately clear what percentage is currently invested in Unilever, which is headquartered in the state.
Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Eric Fingerhut lauded the announcement, saying it “sends a strong message that boycotts and discrimination against America’s staunch ally Israel are unacceptable and only serve to undermine the cause of peace.”
Earlier this month, Arizona became the first state to pull the trigger on divesting from Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s in response to its settlement boycott.
Arizona’s investments in Unilever were reduced from $143 million as of June 30 to just $50 million last week, and by September 21 will go down to zero, State Treasurer Kimberly Yee said in a statement.
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 and New Jersey, New York, 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 that it opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, while 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.