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Texas takes steps to divest from Ben & Jerry’s following settlement boycott

Ice cream giant, parent company added to state’s list of companies that boycott Israel, which will likely see Texas divest $100 million in state pension funds within 90 days

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

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

Texas on Thursday officially added Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever to a list of companies that boycott Israel over the former’s decision to cease the sale of its products in West Bank settlements, a further step on the path to the state divesting some $100 million from the companies.

“Effective today, the Comptroller’s office has added Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, to the Texas list of companies that boycott Israel,” Texas’s comptroller Glenn Hegar’s office said in a statement.

“This action was undertaken pursuant to Texas Government Code Chapter 808, which defines ‘boycott Israel’ 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 in an Israeli-controlled territory,” the statement adds.

The move commences a process that will likely end with the pulling of $100 million in state pension funds invested in Unilever. Once a firm is added to the state’s list of Israel boycotters and is notified of such, it has 90 days to change course before the divestment kicks in.

It was not immediately clear if Texas had officially notified Unilever of the development.

“Texas law is clear on this issue, and my office has long supported Israel through our Israel bond holdings as well as our lists of scrutinized companies with ties to Iran and those with ties to foreign terrorist organizations,” Hegar’s statement said.

Thursday’s decision was made possible due to the Texas boycott law’s broad definition of Israel that includes the “territory’s that it controls” — i.e. the West Bank.

The ice cream company announced in July that it will 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.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. (Wikipedia Commons)

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 & 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.

Texas’s effort to divest from Ben & Jerry’s began in July shortly after the settlement boycott was announced. Then, Hegar announced that he had ordered his office to carry out an investigation to determine whether divestment of Unilever would be in order.

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.

Last week, New Jersey announced that it was on the path to follow suit.

The director of the New Jersey Division of Investment penned a letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope 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.

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

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.

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 Texas, Arizona and New Jersey, New York, Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Rhode Island have launched formal proceedings.

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