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Texas considers divesting from Ben & Jerry’s following settlement boycott

Comptroller orders office to probe whether announcement by ice cream giant violates state’s anti-BDS laws, which would require withdrawing state pension funds from Unilever

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

Ice cream moves along the production line at Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream, in Waterbury, Vermont. on March 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)
Ice cream moves along the production line at Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream, in Waterbury, Vermont. on March 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)

Texas’s comptroller ordered his office on Thursday to determine whether Ben & Jerry’s decision to cease the sale of its products in West Bank settlements is a violation of the state’s anti-BDS laws, which would require sanctioning the ice cream giant.

“If it is determined that Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever has engaged in any activities proscribed under Chapter 808 of the Texas Government Code, my office will take all appropriate and required actions consistent with our policies and procedures,” Glenn Hegar said in a statement.

In its decision, which is set to take effect at the end of 2022, Ben & Jerry’s said it would be “inconsistent with our values” to continue sales in “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” differentiating between the settlements it intends to boycott and Israel proper, where it hopes to continue its sales.

But the comptroller noted that Texas law against boycotting Israel makes no such differentiation, defining the practice as “refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or an Israeli-controlled territory.”

The quoted legislation, against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, passed in 2017 and requires Texas to divest pension funds from companies that boycott Israel or the settlements.

Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever is included in the investment portfolio that amounts to $100 million in pensions funds, according to data from Bloomberg.

This appears to line Unilever up for divestment as a result of the Ben & Jerry’s decision, though Uniliver has distanced itself from the decision of its subsidiary.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. (Wikipedia Commons)

Texas anti-BDS legislation also requires the blacklisting of Israel boycotting companies from larger contracts with the state, and Hegar said his office would examine whether it has any contracts with Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever that would have to be voided.

“Texans have made it very clear that they stand with Israel and its people. We are against all those wishing to undermine Israel’s economy and its people,” the comptroller said, recommending that Texans pursue other ice cream options instead of “the overpriced, stuck-up stuff made by a foreign-owned company started in Vermont.”

A spokesman for Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “Ben and Jerry’s decision to boycott parts of Israel is disgraceful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East… Unilever, Ben and Jerry’s parent company, must reverse this ill-conceived decision.”

Texas is the first of 33 states with anti-BDS laws to announce that it plans to take action against Ben & Jerry’s over its settlement boycott.

The comptroller’s announcement came three days after the Israeli Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan penned letters to each of the governors of those 33 states, urging them to act against Ben & Jerry’s in line with those laws.

Israeli officials have lashed out at Ben & Jerry’s over the decision, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid saying the ice cream company “caved to antisemitism” and President Isaac Herzog referring to the boycott as a “form of terrorism.”

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