Days of Palestine

New York pulls $111 million from investment in Unilever over decision to end sales in illegal Israeli settlements

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New York’s $268 billion state pension fund on Thursday became the latest to restrict its holdings from conglomerate Unilever following its subsidiary, the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company, decision to end sales in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In a statement sent by a spokesman, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said a review found the company and its subsidiary “engaged in BDS activities,” referring the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has total Unilever equity of $111 million, the spokesman said. The fund is the third-largest US public pension fund.

In response, Israeli Occupation Foreign Minister Yair Lapid thanked the state “for agreeing to our request to pull $111 million from its investment in Ben & Jerry’s.

“We will continue to fight against BDS and antisemitism wherever it pops up and without hesitation,” Lapid claimed.

Pension officials in other states including New Jersey, Arizona and Florida have also moved to sell shares in Unilever or restricted the purchase of new stock for similar reasons.

The US state of Florida said it is set to begin divesting from conglomerate Unilever, and the move took effect last Tuesday, three months after the 46th Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis wrote a letter to the executive director of the state’s administrative board.

In the letter, he said that if Ben & Jerry’s continued with its decision to end sales in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, the board will have to stop acquiring “any and all Unilever assets” in order to comply with the state’s anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws.

“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,” DeSantis wrote in that letter.

DeSantis continued, “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.”

“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.”

However, at a September cabinet meeting, Florida’s SBA executive director, Ash Williams, said, “I have not seen any meaningful response from Unilever, period.”

He added, “It’s a small part of our overall portfolio as you might imagine.”

According to the WFLA news site, the SBA’s investments in Unilever total about $139 million, out of its approximate $200 billion portfolio.

The Well-known American firm announced in July that it will no longer sell its products for settlements in the West Bank and the eastern part of Jerusalem.

The firm, known for its progressive activities, has been silent on social media since last May, when ‘Israel’ were bombarding the besieged Gaza strip, killing over 250 Palestinians, most of them were children and women.

The company said in a statement on its website “it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).”

Israel’s Ambassador to the US and UN Gilad Erdan on Tuesday said he has sent letters to the governors of the 35 American states that have anti-BDS laws, asking them to act against Ben & Jerry’s decision.

“I urged them to act against Ben & Jerry’s decision to not sell its products in the eastern part of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria. We will make clear to Ben & Jerry’s that its antisemitic decision will have consequences,” Erdan tweeted.

Last month, Arizona became the first state to pull the trigger on divesting from Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, in response to its decision.

Texas has officially added Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever to a list of companies that boycott Israel, a further step on the path to the state divesting some $100 million from the companies.

New Jersey has announced that it is on the path to follow suit, while Illinois, Maryland, and Rhode Island have launched formal proceedings.