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The Great Divestment Wars So Far: Israel 8, Unilever 0

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After Ben & Jerry’s decided to end sales of its product in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Gilad Erdan, sent a letter to the governors of the 35 states that have anti-BDS laws on their books, urging them to now apply them, which would mean divesting from Ben & Jerry’s parent company, the conglomerate Unilever. And that is what has been happening.

The latest example is New York State, which has just announced, on Oct. 29, that it will disinvest its pension fund of all of its Unilever stock, worth $114 million. A full report is here.

Israeli officials and US Jewish groups praised New York’s move Friday to pull its $111 million in equity investments out of Unilever [and $3 million in other securities], the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, over the ice cream maker’s boycott of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

A spokesperson for New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Thursday that the companies were determined to be “engaged in BDS activities,” referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

DiNapoli had warned Unilever CEO Alan Jope in July that Ben & Jerry’s decision earlier that month to stop selling its products in what it termed “Occupied Palestinian Territories” could threaten New York state pension fund investments in the UK-based company.

The sole manager of New York’s $263-billion state Common Retirement Fund, DiNapoli issued a policy in 2016 against companies involved in the BDS movement….

The New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third-largest public pension fund in the country, holds $111 million in Unilever equity.

This is the latest report from the field in the Great Divestment Wars, in which Israel is decidedly winning. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the eponymous founders of the ice cream company, who tell us they care deeply about “human rights” in Israel but not, apparently, in China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, or Turkey, look ever more absurd in their selective indignation and diseased sympathy. And they are learning that there is a price to be paid.

Florida on Tuesday [Oct. 26] restricted the state and local governments from buying new investments in Unilever. This is the first step to disinvestment of the $139 million worth of Unilever stock in Florida’s state’s pension fund.

New Jersey has now committed to disinvestment of all of the $182 million in Unilever stock in currently possesses; it had given Unilever 90 days to comply with state law by reversing the Ben & Jerry’s boycott; otherwise, disinvestment is scheduled to be completed by December 21.

Arizona in mid-September became the first state to divest all of its Unilever securities– $143 million worth – in its state pension fund.

Texas has notified Unilever about its inclusion on a list of companies violating the state’s ban on boycotts of Israel. It has now warned Unilever that it “may become subject to divestment by state governmental entities.” Within 90 days after being notified, companies “must cease boycotting Israel in order to avoid qualifying for divestment by state governmental entities.” The state currently holds about $100 million in Unilever stock. Unilever has been notified, and the countdown clock in Austin is ticking.

Three months ago Illinois gave Unilever notice that If it did not reverse the decision of its subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, in refusing to sell its product in the West Bank, the state would begin on Nov. 1 to divest about $180 million in Unilever stock from its state pension fund. It had previously decided to make no more investments in Unilever. Now, without any change in Unilever’s policy, the state’s pension fund is prepared to disinvest.

Maryland and Rhode Island are now actively considering whether to divest, and both are expected to do so within in the next few months. I’m going to count them as likely “wins” for Israel.

In the Great Divestment Wars, so far the score is Israel 8, Unilever 0, with at least 27 states with anti-BDS laws on the books, whom we are yet to hear from, and another 15 states that may still be considering passing anti-BDS laws.

It would be inaccurate to say that Unilever will rue the day the chairman of the Ben & Jerry’s board, the anti-Israel Anuradha Mittal, pushed through a measure to end sales of the ice cream in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. It already rues.


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