New Jersey to divest from Unilever due to Ben and Jerry’s boycott

Following Arizona, the state has decided that the ice cream maker’s parent company has run afoul of its anti-BDS laws.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

New Jersey will become the second U.S. state after Arizona to divest from Ben and Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, after the ice-cream maker announced that it would boycott Judea and Samaria once its current franchise’s license runs out at the end of 2022.

The director of the state’s Division of Investment, Shoiab Khan, said Tuesday, ““No pension fund assets may be invested in the company, and DOI shall take appropriate action to sell or divest any existing pension fund investments.”

The division had determined that Ben and Jerry’s decision contravened the state’s anti-boycott laws, and that as a subsidiary, its actions were considered those of the conglomerate that owns it.

Unilver, whose North American division is based in New Jersey, will have 90 days to appeal the ruling.

State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr., who was a co-sponsor of the law, expressed satisfaction with the decision.

“Our law sends the clear message that New Jersey will not tolerate anti-Semitism and we won’t financially support businesses that target Israel,” Kean said. “There are plenty of businesses that don’t engage in BDS activities where New Jersey’s $90 billion pension fund can be invested to the benefit of our public workers.”

The president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, Eric Fingerhut, praised the decision as well.

“We are proud of New Jersey’s Jewish Federations’ tireless efforts to combat boycotts and delegitimization of Israel,” he said. “Today’s preliminary decision by the New Jersey Division of Investment – like those of other state governments around the country with which Jewish Federations work – sends a strong message that boycotts and discrimination against America’s staunch ally Israel are unacceptable and only serve to undermine the cause of peace.”

Ben and Jerry’s independent board of directors had announced in July that it would cut ties with its long-term Israeli distributor next December to ensure that its products would not be sold anymore in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Out of the 34 states that have anti-BDS laws on their books, eight announced over subsequent months that they would review their case against Unilever. Arizona became the first to divest last week, to the tune of $143 million.

Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Texas are the other states that are currently examining the issue. In July, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had said that he would go to all the others “one by one,” to demand that they enforce their own laws against Ben & Jerry’s “because they will not treat us in this way without encountering a response.”

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Unilever has so far argued that in its deal with Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream maker is allowed to make decisions that oppose the parent company, and that Unilever itself is heavily in the Israeli market and has no intention of leaving.