Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee announced this week that she is withdrawing all funds invested in Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, due to the ice cream company’s boycott of Israel’s settlements which violates Arizona law. Arizona passed A.R.S. 35-393, prohibiting investment of state and local funds in companies that boycott Israel or its territories, in 2016. Yee, who is running for governor of Arizona, warned Unilever on August 3, but the company merely responded saying it had no control over Ben & Jerry’s.
“Israel is and will continue to be a major trade partner of Arizona,” Yee said in a statement on Tuesday. “As Arizona’s Chief Banking and Investment Officer, I stand with Israel, and I will not allow taxpayer dollars to go towards anti-Semitic, discriminatory efforts against Israel.” The State Treasurer’s Office has invested in Israel Bonds since 2013, investing more than $30 million.
Ben & Jerry’s announced in July that it would not be renewing its contract with its licensee in the West Bank due to Israel’s “illegal occupation” there. Ben & Jerry’s refers to the disputed areas, which also include east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Owners Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield say they will still sell their ice cream in other parts of Israel.
Yee started reducing the investment funds in Unilever earlier this summer. On June 30, there was $143 million. The amount dropped to $50 million and will be zero by September 21. Yee said she must publicly disclose on the treasurer’s website that the state has divested its funds in Unilever, as required by the law.
Arizona passed A.R.S. 35-393 in response to the BDS movement — boycott, divest, sanction — which seeks to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the disputed territories. Arizona also requires companies that do business with the state to pledge not to boycott Israel (companies with under 10 employees and contracts under $100,000 are exempt).
There are 34 states that require their governments to discontinue business with companies that boycott Israel, including 12 that mandate disinvesting retirement funds for state employees. Seven other states are also investigating Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever. According to Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who helped draft one of the first anti-BDS laws in the nation, if all 12 states divest funds from Unilever, that’s “a massive amount of money just across 12 states invested in international equities.”
The last major incident involving a boycott of Israel’s contested areas took place in 2018, when Airbnb decided to stop listing lodgings from settlements. Lawsuits were filed against the company alleging discrimination, and Airbnb backed down and settled.
Cracks are rising between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s over the boycott. Board members of Ben & Jerry’s were furious that the July statement said the company would continue to sell ice cream in the rest of Israel, they didn’t think the boycott went far enough.
Several supermarkets in the U.S. including the New York City chain Morton Williams pulled Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from their stores in response to the boycott.
Ben & Jerry’s has a long history of radical activism. Cohen signed a petition demanding justice for police killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. In January, a Ben & Jerry’s tweet called for the resignation, impeachment and 25th Amendment removal of then-President Donald Trump. The founders labeled the January 6 incident at the U.S. Capitol “a riot to uphold white supremacy.”
Ben & Jerry’s has been accused of flashily announcing left-wing ideals but then not sticking with them. They introduced “Eco-Pint” packaging in 2001, which was cardboard unbleached paperboard, but ditched it for bleached packaging in 2006, blaming lack of market demand. They started out with a policy that the highest-paid employees could not make more than five times as much as entry-level employees. They dropped that policy in 1994.
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop” by Steve Morgan. CC BY-SA 3.0.