The state of New York will divest pension funds from the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s over the ice cream company’s decision to stop selling its product in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Since Ben & Jerry’s announced the settlement ban in July, several US states have taken steps to divest from the UK conglomerate Unilever that owns the ice cream company. Over 30 US states have passed legislation against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that advocates for global boycotts to pressure Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians.
New York hasn’t passed BDS legislation, but in 2016, former Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring state agencies to divest from companies that boycott Israel. When he signed the order, Cuomo said passing legislation was a “tedious affair” and that he wanted to take “immediate action” against BDS.
New York first put Unilever on notice over the settlement ban in July and announced Thursday it was moving to divest. The state’s pension fund has about $111 million in Unilever stock. “Our review of the activities of the company, and its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s, found they engaged in BDS activities under our pension fund’s policy,” said New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid thanked the state of New York for taking action against Unilever on behalf of Israel. “Congratulations and thanks to the State of New York for responding to our request and withdrawing $111 million from its investments in Ben & Jerry’s due to the boycott of Israel,” he wrote. “We will continue to fight BDS and antisemitism everywhere and without hesitation.”
New York and the other states that have moved to sanction Unilever — New Jersey, Arizona, and Florida — claim Ben & Jerry’s is “boycotting Israel.” But the ban only applies to illegal settlements, and the ice cream company plans to continue selling its product in Israel.
Earlier this month, the co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, said the settlement ban was not a boycott of Israel “in any way.” the co-founders also addressed the charges of antisemitism. Cohen said the accusation was “absurd” since both he and Greenfield are Jewish.