Florida will buy no more Unilever stock over ice cream boycott in Israel

The southern U.S. state’s funds’ holdings will be frozen at some $139 million of the giant conglomerate’s stock.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Florida state funds are changing their investment habits as of Tuesday and will buy no more Unilever stock as a law prohibiting boycotts of Israel goes into effect.

The multi-national conglomerate is being punished for its Ben & Jerry’s subsidiary announcing in July that as of December 2022 it will no longer sell ice cream in Judea and Samaria, considering it “inconsistent with our values” to sell its products in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

In contrast to other U.S. states that have anti-BDS laws, Florida will only freeze its holdings in Unilever and its various subsidiaries at its current $139 million. In September, Arizona sold over $140 million it had invested in the company in its state-run funds. The director of New Jersey’s Division of Investment, who put Unilever on 90-day notice last month, said that his department “shall take appropriate action to sell or divest any existing pension fund investments.”  Some ten days later, Texas officials said they would follow suit.

Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island have also announced their intention to follow their anti-boycott laws in the matter. Thirty-four states have approved anti-BDS legislation in recent years.

Since Florida’s state funds have some $200 billion in investments, the Unilever portion of their portfolios is not large. The principle in his government’s decision is what Governor Ron DeSantis emphasized when formal notice was given to Unilever in July.

“As a matter of law and principle, the State of Florida will not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the Israeli people,” he said.

Although Unilever has a heavy presence in Israel and declared that it has no intention of following its subsidiary’s lead, the company has not reversed the decision made by Ben & Jerry’s independent board, despite being advised that it could legally do so.

Two pro-Israel groups, StandWithUs and the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, sent a letter to the company’s CEO and board of directors on October 15 stating that its contract “gives Unilever the power to make ‘financial and operational’ decisions for Ben & Jerry’s; the Board can make ‘social’ decisions only insofar as they are ‘commercially reasonable.’” A boycott, they argued, is “commercially unreasonable.”

The current Israeli franchise owner, whose 25-year association with Ben & Jerry’s will end in 14 months, has always insisted on marketing the ice cream in every town and village in Israel. When the company made its announcement, CEO Avi Zinger said he had “been under pressure for about a year” to stop selling in Judea and Samaria, but “I did not agree to surrender to this.”