Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever lose $40 million in investments from North Carolina over Israel boycott

In June of 2022, Unilever sold Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel to a local licensee so that the products could continue being sold in Judea, Samaria, and east Jerusalem.

By Shirin Germezian, The Algemeiner

North Carolina announced on Thursday that the state will no longer invest in the British conglomerate Unilever or its subsidiaries, including the Vermont-based ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s, due to the ice cream company’s boycott of Israel.

The North Carolina Department of State Treasurer added Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc., Unilever PLC, and Unilever’s subsidiaries to a list of companies with which it restricts investments and contracts due to their anti-Israel activity.

The Treasurer’s Office noted in its announcement that state law prohibits “the North Carolina Retirement Systems or the Department of State Treasurer from investing in any company engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

Therefore, State Treasurer Dale Folwell ordered the divestment of $40 million in Unilever assets and notified local governments and state agencies that they are forbidden from contracting with either Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever.

“We have policies in place per state law that dictate how we should proceed on any holdings in the retirement system of companies that boycott Israel and their affiliates. We will follow our policies and the law,” Folwell said in a statement. “This is particularly important in this case as we have witnessed the atrocities perpetrated against the Israeli people. There is no place for antisemitism in this state or this country.”

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The North Carolina Retirement Systems provides retirement benefits and savings for more than 1 million people. Its investments, which currently total $117.9 billion, are managed by the Department of State Treasurer.

Thursday’s announcement came amid a surge in global antisemitism, including across the US, since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

North Carolina has joined a slew of other US states — including Florida, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas — that have withdrawn their investments, stocks, and pension funds from Unilever because of Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israel. About 35 states in the US have anti-Israel boycott laws.

Ben & Jerry’s announced in July 2021 that it would stop selling its products in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — areas it deemed “Occupied Palestinian Territory” — arguing the continuation of sales there would be “inconsistent” with its company values. The ice cream giant added that it would remain selling its items in Israel “through a different arrangement.”

Ben & Jerry’s founders Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, both of whom are Jewish, later wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times that they supported the boycott decision, calling it “not anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace.”

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In Jan. 2022, Unilever announced a company overhaul that would include having Ben & Jerry’s operate under a separate “business group” along with other ice cream brands. In June of that year, Unilever sold Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel to a local licensee, so that the products could continue being sold in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Ben & Jerry’s sued Unilever to try to avoid the sale, but a judge rejected Ben & Jerry’s bid