New York yanks $111 million pension fund from Ben & Jerry's parent company over Israel boycott

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The New York state pension fund is pulling $111 million in investments from the parent company of Ben & Jerry's because of the ice cream maker's recent boycott of Israel.

Ben & Jerry's announced in July that their ice cream would no longer be sold in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)” because selling frozen treats in the Israeli territory is “inconsistent” with the ice cream company's values.

The New York Common Retirement Fund – the third largest public pension plan in the United States – declared that Ben & Jerry's decision violated the group's policy banning investments in organizations that partake in the boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli — the sole manager of $263 billion in assets – said he would yank $111 million from Ben & Jerry's parent company Unilever.

“After a thorough review, the New York State Common Retirement Fund will divest its equity holdings in Unilever PLC,” DiNapoli told the New York Post. “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.”

“We will be divesting those investments. Ben & Jerry's engaged in BDS activities,” said a spokesman for DiNapoli.

Former Brooklyn state Assemblyman Dov Hikind reacted by saying, “This is wonderful news. God bless Tom DiNapoli. BDS equals anti-Semitism and Comptroller DiNapoli stood up against hate.”

Liz Gordon – Executive Director of Corporate Governance at New York State Common Retirement Fund – reportedly gave a warning to Unilever CEO Alan Jope in July.

“The Fund views BDS activities as a potential threat to Israel, its economy, and, as a result, the Fund's relevant investments,” Gordon allegedly wrote to Jope in a letter. “Further, a number of U.S. states have acted or are considering actions to penalize companies that engage in such behavior.”

Jope responded on Aug. 4, “Unilever has a strong and longstanding commitment to our business in Israel. We employ nearly 2,000 people in the country across our four factories and head office, and we have invested approximately $250 million in the Israeli market over the last decade.”

“On this decision, it was no different,” Jope added. “Ben & Jerry's has also made it clear that although the brand will not be present in the West Bank from 2023, it will remain in Israel through a different business arrangement.”

There are 35 U.S. states that require their governments to stop doing business with companies that boycott Israel.

Gilad Erdan – Israel's ambassador to the United States and the United Nations – sent letters to the governors of the 35 U.S. states to urge them to stop doing business with Ben & Jerry's.

“I ask that you consider speaking out against the company's decision, and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben and Jerry's and your state,” Erdan wrote in July.

Florida, Arizona, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, and Rhode Island have launched formal proceedings against the Israel boycott by Ben & Jerry's.

In July, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced that his state would no longer do business with Unilever over Ben & Jerry's boycott of Israel.

“As you know, Florida has long had a strong relationship with the State of Israel,” DeSantis proclaimed at the time. “As a matter of law and principle, the State of Florida does not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the Israeli people, including boycotts and divestments targeting Israel.”

Florida has $139 million invested in British consumer goods conglomerate Unilever.

In September, Arizona announced that it will divest all state funds from Unilever – which would amount to a $143 million withdrawal of investments.

“As Arizona Treasurer, I've divested all state funds from Ben & Jerry's for boycotting Israel,” said State Treasurer Kimberly Yee. “Israel is and will continue to be a major trade partner of AZ. “

Also last month, the New Jersey Division of Investment announced that it would divest in Unilever. The N.J. Treasury Department said it has approximately $182 million in Unilever holdings including stocks, bonds, and short-term paper.

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