Arizona has become the latest state to divest from Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever over the ice-cream retailer’s boycott of Israel.
By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News
Arizona’s state treasurer announced Tuesday that the state will divest all public funds from Ben & Jerry’s following the ice-cream company’s boycott of Israel. The divestment will come fully into effect by the end of September.
State Treasurer Kimberly Yee announced her decision, tweeting: “As Arizona Treasurer, I’ve divested all state funds from Ben & Jerry’s for boycotting Israel. Israel is and will continue to be a major trade partner of AZ. #IStandWithIsrael and I will not allow taxpayer dollars to go towards anti-Semitic, discriminatory efforts against Israel.”
Ben & Jerry’s caused an outcry in July when the company announced it would no longer sell its ice cream in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, with founder Ben Cohen doubling down on the decision in August, saying “We did it. We’re proud of it.”
But the boycott leaves Ben & Jerry’s, and their parent company Unilever, in contravention of Arizona state law, which states that public state entities may not invest monies with an entity that boycotts Israel.
Representatives from Unilever met with Arizona’s investment management team in August to argue that the divestment should not affect the company, as it has not itself boycotted Israel and continues to do business in the country. They also pointed to a clause in the Ben & Jerry’s acquisition agreement that allowed Ben & Jerry’s to retain an independent board and make decisions opposing those of Unilever’s management.
But in a letter dated September 2, Yee wrote to the Unilever in London to inform them that the divestment would be taking effect, in line with Arizona state law.
“The fact remains that Ben & Jerry’s is a legal subsidiary of Unilever and due to the decision by Ben & Jerry’s, continues to be in violation of Arizona law,” Yee wrote, adding: “Therefore, our office has no choice but to place Unilever PLC on the list of firms that are participating in a boycott of the State of Israel until such time as Ben & Jerry’s reverses its boycott decision or Unilever divests itself of Ben & Jerry’s.”
In a statement released on Tuesday, Yee explained: “I gave Unilever PLC, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, an ultimatum: reverse the actions of Ben & Jerry’s to come into compliance with Arizona law or face the consequences. They chose the latter,”
She added: “It does not matter how much investment Unilever PLC has in Israel, with Ben & Jerry’s decision to no longer sell its product in the West Bank, the companies are in violation of the law in Arizona. Arizona will not do business with companies that are attempting to undermine Israel’s economy and blatantly disregarding Arizona’s law.”
The State of Arizona’s investments in Unilever were reduced from $143 million to $50 million on Tuesday, and will be zero by September 21, 2021, after the last investment in Unilever matures.