New Jersey officials announced its $90 billion pension fund will divest from Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever after the ice cream maker’s founders decision not to sell its products in Israel-occupied Palestinian territories.
In 2016, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a law barring New Jersey’s pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel. The New Jersey Department of Treasury’s Division of Investment said in a Sept. 14 statement that it hired an independent consultant to determine whether the actions of ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, “constituted a boycott of Israel or companies operating in Israeli-controlled territory.”
The review resulted in a preliminary finding that Unilever’s actions “did in fact constitute such a boycott,” the Division of Investment said. In a Sept. 2 letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope, Shoaib Khan, acting director of New Jersey’s Division of Investment, gave Unilever 90 days to appeal the state’s preliminary finding.
Ben & Jerry Statement
Ben & Jerry’s said in a July 19 statement on its website that it will stop selling its ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory” when its current license agreement expires at the end of 2022, but Ben & Jerry’s products “remain in Israel through a different business arrangement.”
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners,” the company said.
Thank you for relying on North-JerseyNews.com to provide you the stories from Washington and Trenton that affect us. Please consider supporting North-JerseyNews.com with a voluntary donation.
Unilever issued its own statement the same day, calling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “a very complex and sensitive situation.”
“We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades,” Unilever said.
The company’s statement added that Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000. “As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognised the right of the brand and its independent board to take decisions about its social mission. We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel.”
GOP Senate Leader Praises Move to Divest
New Jersey State Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-21) hailed news of the move by state’s treasury department.
Kean said in a Sept. 14 statement that he and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) wrote the 2016 bipartisan legislation, which he described as “one of the first in the nation to use the power of state investment decisions to remove support for businesses that boycott Israel.”
The two State Senators wrote to Khan in July requesting a review following Ben & Jerry’s announcement that it would stop licensing its products for sale in specific areas of Israel, including East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Kean added that the 2016 law was used in 2019 in response to concerns about Airbnb after the home rental service refused listings in Israeli settlements. New Jersey’s review resulted in the prohibition of state investments. The GOP lawmaker said that following New Jersey’s decision and similar actions by other states, Airbnb reversed its policy.
“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.
Leadership of the Jewish Federations of New Jersey issued a Sept. 14 statement praising the move by New Jersey. “We commend the State of New Jersey for their decision, delivering a rebuke to those who would discriminate against the State of Israel—an ally of the United States and a vibrant economic partner of the State,” the group said.
‘Neither Anti-Israel Nor Anti Semitic’
Ben & Jerry’s rejected the idea that its actions constituted anti-Semitism. “We reject and repudiate all forms of hate and racism,” the company said on its website. “Our decision to exit the OPT was based on our belief that it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation. Speaking and acting on our values is neither anti-Israel nor anti semitic.”
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, tweeted in July that he’d penned a letter to 35 governors of U.S. states with laws against the boycott of Israel, urging them to impose sanctions against Ben & Jerry’s.
In the July 19 letter, he said that “rapid and determined actions must be taken to counter such discriminatory and anti semitic actions.”
The announcement from New Jersey came a week after Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee announced that the state would divest all public funds from Ben & Jerry’s for violating that state’s own boycotting Israel measure. Arizona law states that “public state entities may not invest moneys with an entity that boycotts Israel,” a Sept. 7 Office of the Arizona State Treasurer press release said.