JERUSALEM, Israel – New Jersey is the latest state to announce plans to divest from the company that owns Ben & Jerry’s over the ice cream company’s decision to stop selling products in Israeli settlement communities.
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Division of Investment wrote a letter to Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, saying it had reached a preliminary conclusion that the company’s decision violated the state’s law against Israel boycotts.
The law passed in 2018 prohibits New Jersey from investing state pension funds in businesses that engage in boycotts. The state gave Unilever 90 days to convince Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its decision or face divestment.
The decision came after Ben & Jerry’s announced in July it would not sell ice cream in what it calls “occupied Palestinian territory.”
Today, some 700,000 Israelis live in settlement communities in the West Bank – biblical Judea and Samaria – and eastern Jerusalem. These Jewish towns, villages and cities sit on territories Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day war. Israel claimed eastern Jerusalem during that war and considers it part of its unified capital, and the West Bank as “disputed territory” whose final legal status should be resolved through negotiations.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank as part of their future independent state with eastern Jerusalem as their capital.
Most countries view Israeli settlements as illegal under international law and obstacles to peace, according to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel rejects this and cites the San Remo resolution signed in 1920 after World War I as its right under international law to settle the land.
Ben & Jerry’s founders, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, said in a recent New York Times opinion piece that they no longer control the company but approve of its decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
“We are also proud Jews. It’s part of who we are and how we’ve identified ourselves for our whole lives. As our company began to expand internationally, Israel was one of our first overseas markets. We were then, and remain today, supporters of the State of Israel,” the founders said. “But it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government.”
Unilever CEO Alan Jope has said that Unilever is “fully committed” to doing business with Israel despite Ben & Jerry’s decision.
Unilever also said in an email that it employs more than 2,000 people in Israel and the company “rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance.”
“Anti-Semitism has no place in any society,” the company said, adding that Ben & Jerry's will continue selling ice cream in parts of Israel “through a different business arrangement."
Unilever's subsidiaries include a wide variety of familiar consumer goods such as Dove personal care products, Lipton tea, Hellmann's mayonnaise, and Sunlight soap.
Following Ben & Jerry’s announcement, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the UN sent a letter to the governors of 35 US states urging them to punish Unilever under anti-boycott laws.
Texas and Florida have threatened to divest from Unilever over the Ben & Jerry’s boycott. Arizona has already fully divested from the company.