B&J’s Friday Update: FLA, TX Calling for Ice Cream Titan to be Held Accountable for Violating Anti-BDS Laws

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Vermont ice cream entrepreneurs Ben Cohen, left, and Jerry Greenfield pose for photos in Burlington, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Edited by: TJVNews.com

The controversy swirling around the decision by Ben & Jerry’s board to no longer allow sales in areas it believes Israel has no right to be in continues to mushroom here in the United States and abroad.

The company released a statement earlier this week saying “we believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

According to a CNBC report, Ben & Jerry’s is currently owned by global consumer giant Unilever which has sold its brand in Israel for decades through a local Israeli distributor. Unilever said it would seek a new deal to sell ice cream in Israel, but not in territory claimed by Palestinians for a state of their own. On Thursday, Unilever CEO Alan Jope said the company “remains fully committed to our business in Israel,” according to the CNBC report.

AP reported that the Israeli government has condemned the Ben & Jerry’s decision, accusing the company of joining a Palestinian-led boycott campaign against Israel known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It has urged 35 American states with anti-boycott laws to punish Unilever.

In a conference call with investors, Jope said that Ben & Jerry’s, that has a long history of social activism, had made the decision on its own, according to the AP report.

“Obviously it’s a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings,” Jope said, according to the AP report. “If there is one message I want to underscore in this call, it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”

That includes a new 35 million euro ($41 million) razor factory, corporate offices and facilities that employ some 2,000 people, hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and support for “social programs,” he said.

He said “it is not our intent” to regularly delve into such sensitive matters.

“It’s been a longstanding issue for Ben & Jerry’s,” he said, as was reported by AP. “We were aware of this decision by the brand and its independent board, but it’s certainly not our intention that every quarter will have one quite as fiery as this one.”

Ben & Jerry’s board, which has a unique agreement with parent company Unilever allowing for an outsized role in decisions regarding social issues, initiated the move this week to pull out of Israel, according to the AP report.

After Ben & Jerry’s statement, Unilever released one of its own Monday saying “we remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades.” In addition, Unilever’s CEO spoke this week with Bennett. AP reported that after the conversation, Israel’s new prime minister said: “This is an action that has severe consequences, including legal, and it (Israel) will take strong action against any boycott directed against its citizens.”

Ben & Jerry’s Chair Anuradha Mittal has not responded to CNBC regarding the impact of the decision and the possibility that state pension funds could divest from Unilever. In a phone interview Thursday, Ben & Jerry’s spokesman Sean Greenwood said: “The company has nothing to add beyond the original statement” issued Monday.

Now it appears that Texas and Florida are jumping in the fray with their steadfast commitment to support Israel.

A spokesman for GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told CNBC: “Ben and Jerry’s decision to boycott parts of Israel is disgraceful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East.” The statement went on to say: “Unilever, Ben and Jerry’s parent company, must reverse this ill-conceived decision.”

Abbott signed a bill into law four years ago that would force Texas pension funds to divest from any company boycotting Israel, according to the CNBC report.

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who controls billions of dollars in assets for Texas’ public pension funds has already told his office to take action. In a statement to CNBC he said, “I’ve directed my staff to determine whether any specific action has been taken by Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever would trigger a listing under Chapter 808 of the Texas Government Code,” the law passed in 2017.

Florida state CFO Jimmy Patronis, who controls public pension funds, told CNBC his office is already discussing the issue.

In a letter sent to Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy on Thursday, Patronis wrote, “It is my belief that Ben & Jerry’s brazen refusal to do business in Israel will result in your placement on the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List.”

The letter also said the state would then “be prohibited from investing in Ben & Jerry’s or its parent company, Unilever.” CNBC saw the letter. Being added to the list also means the company won’t be able to enter or renew contracts with the state or any municipality in Florida, according to the CNBC report.

Also on Thursday, it was reported that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called on the State Board of Administration (SBA) to immediately place Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on the Continued Examination Companies that Boycott Israel List and initiate the process to place both companies on the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List.

In a letter to Ash Williams,  the executive director of the State Board of Administration of Florida in Tallahassee. Governor DeSantis wrote:

“As you know, Florida has long had a strong relationship with the State of Israel. 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.

 It has come to my attention that Ben & Jerry’s has announced plans to remove its products and prohibit the sale of its ice cream in Judea and Samaria. These actions taken by Ben & Jerry’s fall squarely within the prohibited activities defined by Section 215.4725(1)(a), Florida Statutes. Ben & Jerry’s is a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever, a publicly traded company in which Florida holds multiple investments.

 Therefore, I am requesting the State Board of Administration (SBA) immediately place Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on the Continued Examination Companies that Boycott Israel List, and initiate the process to place Ben & Jerry’s, and by extension Unilever, on the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List. Please provide an update on the status of this process to me and the other Trustees as soon as possible.

 Should the State Board of Administration affirmatively place Unilever and its corporate entities on the Scrutinized Companies List and these companies do not cease the boycott of Israel as required by Florida law, the Board must refrain from acquiring any and all Unilever assets consistent with the law.

 These actions affirm the State of Florida’s relationship with the State of Israel and our commitment to a swift response to those who discriminate against the Israeli people.”

Associated Press reported on Thursday that Israel’s ambassador to the United States and United Nations, Gilad Erdan, this week sent a letter to the governors of 35 U.S. states urging them to punish Unilever under anti-boycott laws.

On Thursday, he joined Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in hosting a delegation of foreign diplomats, as was reported by AP. Erdan said he was enlisting the diplomats in the fight against what he called “anti-Israel discrimination” on the international stage.

The dispute has turned the Israeli ice cream market into the latest front in Israel’s long-running battle against the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led grassroots campaign that promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities, as was reported by AP.

AP reported that Israel has said the movement has a deeper agenda aimed at delegitimizing and destroying the country. Some have expressed concern that Ben & Jerry’s, whose founders are both Jewish, could spur other companies to follow suit.

Also on Thursday, the Jewish Voice learned that the decision as to whether Ben & Jerry’s was going to have their kosher certification revoked by the Kof-K kosher supervision organization that gave it to them was set to take place early on Friday.

In an interview with the Jewish Voice, Rabbi Menachem Lubinsky of the Lubicom Marketing & Consulting firm said that politics is never the predicate for pulling an hashgacha (kosher certification).

“The only time a hashgacha can be revoked is when one willfully brings in non-kosher ingredients into a production line at a plant, “ said Rabbi Lubinsky. He added that if a company took a highly unpopular political position on a issue, it still would be exceptionally difficult to have the kosher certification revoked.

Speaking to the Jewish Voice on the condition of anonymity, a prominent rabbi in the kosher supervision business for many years said, “There are hundreds of millions of dollars involved in the kashrus business and it is really quite difficult to drop a hechsher for reasons of politics. Since contracts are renewed with food companies on an annual basis, the best that can be hoped for is that the kosher supervision company will announce that they will not renew their annual contract with Ben & Jerry’s when it expires.”

The hyper local News 12 channel in the Bronx & Brooklyn reported Thursday that officials from the town of Hempstead are calling for a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s products for actions taken by the ice cream company that they strongly believe are anti-Semitic.

Town of Hempstead government officials say they will be boycotting Ben & Jerry’s until a change is made in the company’s stance, according to the News 12 report.

They also say they’re calling for a boycott of every product of Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever. These products include Dove soap, Hellman’s mayonnaise, and Lipton tea, as was previously reported in the Jewish Voice,

News 12 reported on Thursday that Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin says they’ve informed their commissioners, department heads and all their vendors that they can no longer acquire those products.

“They’re going to have to review their products and they’re going to have to get rid of them,” Clavin says, according to News 12.

He called the move from the ice cream company “a blatant anti-Israel action.”

News 12 reported that the town is enforcing legislation passed in 2016 which prohibits the town government from doing business with companies boycotting against the U.S., Israel, and other countries.

Leaders in Nassau County, the town of Oyster Bay and the town of North Hempstead all say they will do the same, News 12 reported on Thursday.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran issued a statement saying, “I am disappointed by Ben & Jerry’s decision to align itself with the anti-Israel BDS movement, which unfairly and dangerously singles out the world’s only Jewish State. I strongly oppose the BDS movement and have worked hard to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Nassau during my time as county executive. As a county legislator, I voted to prohibit the county from doing business with companies or individuals involved in the discriminatory BDS movement. This has been my long-standing position.”

(Sources: AP, CNBC with additional reporting by Fern Sidman)

 

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