Florida has announced that it will add Ben & Jerry’s parent company to a list that will restrict state investment in the firm over the ice cream company’s decision to stop selling its product in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The UK-based company Unilever will be added to Florida’s “Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel” list, which prohibits state investments and contracts with the company. Unilever will be added to the list on October 26th unless Ben & Jerry’s reverses its decision, which is not expected.
The state of Florida has about $139 million invested in Unilever and its subsidiaries. Under Florida’s restrictions, the state is not required to sell its current Unilever holdings but is prohibited from investing further in the company.
Other states have moved to divest entirely from Unilever on behalf of Israel, including New Jersey and Arizona. The states claim Ben & Jerry’s is boycotting Israel, but the ban only applies to ice cream sales in illegal settlements, and the product will still be sold in Israel.
US states are able to punish foreign companies at the behest of Israel due to laws against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for international boycotts to put pressure on Israel over its crimes against the Palestinians. Over 30 US states have anti-BDS laws on the books. Besides prohibiting investments in companies that “boycott Israel,” the laws also require contractors doing business with the state to sign what is essentially a loyalty oath to Israel.
After Ben & Jerry’s made the announcement in July, Israel launched a “maximum pressure” campaign to influence the US and urge states to use the anti-BDS laws to punish the ice cream company, and many governors were eager to comply.