Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israeli settlements triggered strong opposition from the states

Ben & Jerry’s decision to protest Israel’s Palestinian policy by stopping sales of some of its products in the country has made national leaders in the United States threaten to ignore the ice cream maker.

At least five states responded to the well-known liberal company’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the “occupied Palestinian territory” and took action to restrict its public officials’ business dealings with Ben & Jerry’s.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis requires the State Executive Committee to initiate the process to include Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on its list of companies under review for violating the state’s anti-boycott, divestment, and sanctions [BDS] A law designed to impose political and financial pressure on companies targeting Israel.

“If the National Executive Committee affirmatively includes Unilever and its corporate entities on the list of review companies, and these companies do not stop boycotting Israel as required by Florida law, the board must refrain from acquiring any and all Unilever assets that comply with the law ,” Mr. DeSantis said in a letter on Thursday.

Since the company’s July 19 announcement, other states are carefully reviewing Ben & Jerry’s relationship, including Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegel said last week that he had instructed his office to review whether Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever was engaged in activities that violated the state’s anti-BDS regulations.

“Ben and Jerry’s decision to boycott parts of Israel is shameful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Ben and Jerry’s parent company Unilever must reverse this ill-considered decision.”

According to The Times of Israel, since South Carolina became the first state in 2015, it is estimated that 35 states have passed anti-BDS laws, and “21 of these states have explicitly included the West Bank settlement boycott in their definition.”

There is no such law in New York, but even so, the State Mutual Pension Fund warned Unilever in a letter on Friday that the State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli “has been reported to report that Ben is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever. & Jerry’s is uneasy and worried about participating in the BDS activities.”

The letter cited the fund’s 2016 policy, which is to “treat BDS activities as a potential threat to Israel, its economy, and the fund’s related investments.”

Fund Executive Director Liz Gordon said in a statement: “Therefore, as required by the Fund’s policy, this letter serves as a notice. If these reports are correct, the Fund intends to include Unilever in our list of companies participating in BDS activities.” Jewish Publishing Letter published by the agency.

State laws are different, but they usually fall into two camps: laws that prohibit state contractors from boycotting Israel, and laws that prohibit state funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel.

Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma called on state officials to review the government’s relationship with Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s on the grounds that Oklahoma’s 2020 law prohibits the government from signing agreements with companies that boycott Israel Public contract.

“Ben & Jerry’s is a subsidiary of Unilever, and Unilever does have contracts across the country,” Lankford said in a Facebook video last week. “I’m just challenging our country to stand up on Israel’s side in this regard. If Ben & Jerry’s intends to take action against Israel, our state has already determined our response.”

He emphasized that state law does not apply to grocery stores and other private entities that sell Ben & Jerry’s.

“This doesn’t stop someone from buying Ben & Jerry’s. If you want to buy it at the grocery store, then go,” Mr. Lankford said, adding, “I personally buy Bron’s ice cream.”

The challenge to the nation’s action is a coalition of seven progressive groups led by J Street, which argued in a letter to the governor on Monday that opponents of Ben Jerry’s decision “wrongly labeled it as a boycott of Israel and a Israel legalizes or supports the global BDS movement.”

“None of our organization supports the boycott of Israel or the global BDS movement-and many of us actively oppose them,” the letter said. “At the same time, like Ben & Jerry’s, we clearly distinguish between the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories that it has militarily occupied.”

The Palestinian BDS National Committee praised Ben & Jerry’s decision as a “significant #BDSsuccess” and said on Twitter that it “triggered a shock wave in the apartheid system, and Israel reiterated its commitment to the non-violent BDS movement and its global opposition. The fear of isolating the growing strategic influence of the Israeli oppressive regime.”

J Street’s letter stated that anti-BDS laws face freedom of speech lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, “because they may be weaponized against political opponents and silence Palestinians and human rights advocates.

“No matter how strongly people oppose or oppose the speech or goal of a particular movement and effort, the right to resist is an important part of our democracy,” said progressive groups.

The ACLU has won court victories against anti-BDS laws in several states, and some states have responded by modifying their regulations.

For example, Arizona and Texas both revised their laws in 2019 to require contractors to sign anti-BDS undertakings, which only apply to companies with 10 or more employees and the contract value exceeds $100,000, which prompted the courts Revoke the previously issued ban.

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, argued that “anti-BDS laws do not prohibit speech or any other rights. They only apply to discrimination.

“Any state contract has many non-discriminatory clauses,” she said. “Refusal to use taxpayer funds to subsidize discriminatory behavior is not a punishment, because there is no inherent right to obtain state business.”

Unilever rushed to emphasize its commitment to Israel after its Vermont subsidiary stated that it was “inconsistent with our values ​​of selling Ben & Jerry ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

Unilever CEO Alan Qiaopu said on Thursday’s conference call that the company “remains fully committed to our business in Israel.

“This is a decision made by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board of directors based on the acquisition agreement we signed 20 years ago,” Mr. Qiaopu said on CNBC.

According to the 2000 acquisition agreement, Unilever said in a statement on Monday, “We have always recognized that the brand and its independent board of directors have the right to make decisions about its social mission.”

A meeting of chairpersons of major Jewish organizations, including 53 groups, urged governors last week to determine whether Ben & Jerry violated state anti-BDS regulations.

“If the country invests in Unilever, we ask you to take immediate action to divest,” said the letter on Thursday. “In addition, we ask you to determine whether the state has any contracts with Unilever and its subsidiaries that may violate state anti-BDS laws.”

Ben & Jerry’s stated, “We will stay in Israel through different arrangements. We will share the latest news on this matter as soon as we are ready.”

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