New York Fund Divests $111 Million After Ben & Jerry’s Boycott in Israel

By Naveen Athrappully
Naveen Athrappully
Naveen Athrappully
October 31, 2021 Updated: October 31, 2021

New York State pension fund revealed Thursday that it’d be pulling out $111 million in equity investments from Unilever, the conglomerate parent of Ben & Jerry’s following the ice cream maker’s decision to boycott sales in certain regions of Israel.

“Our review of the activities of the company, and its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s, found they engaged in BDS activities,” Thomas DiNapoli, the manager of New York’s $268 billion retirement fund, said in a statement to the New York Post.

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement that claims Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. Supporters of Israel have termed the movement as anti-Semitic and a politically-motivated strategic threat.

According to Ben & Jerry’s, if they remain, it will be “inconsistent with our values for our product to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation.” The company will remain in the country “through a different business arrangement,” and reiterated that their values are “neither anti-Israel nor antisemitic.”

Back in 2016, the New York Common Retirement Fund adopted the policy that stated there will be repercussions for companies engaged in BDS activities which puts the fund’s Israeli investments at risk. Owing to this, Liz Gordon, DiNapoli’s director of corporate governance, wrote a letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope in July expressing “trouble and concern” over Ben & Jerry’s stance.

“If the company fails to respond or fails to demonstrate that it has not engaged in BDS activities, the Fund’s investment in Unilever will be subject to a detailed review and staff recommendation, which may include investment restrictions, in accordance with the Fund’s BDS policy,” the letter said.

On Aug. 4, Jope replied that Unilever had no say in the “social mission” of the brands it represents and that the company had a long-standing commitment to doing 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,” Jope said in a letter to Gordon.

New York now becomes the fourth state to sanction Unilever, following Arizona, New Jersey, and Florida. New Jersey began divesting $182 million in September in Unilever stock, bonds, and other securities. Thirty-five states in the country have laws regarding anti-Israel boycotts.

“Congratulations and thanks to the State of New York for responding to our request and withdrawing $111 million from its investments in Ben & Jerry’s due to the boycott of Israel,” Yair Lapid Israeli Foreign Minister wrote on Twitter. “We will continue to fight BDS and anti-Semitism everywhere and without hesitation,” he said.

In a recent Axios interview of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, activist co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Alexi McCammond asked them about their reasoning to boycott regions based on their liberal ideals.

“I don’t know,” Ben Cohen said to McCammond when she asked why the company still sells in Georgia when they were proponents of progressive voting rights. “It’s an interesting question. I don’t know what that would accomplish. We’re working on those issues, of voting rights. … I think you ask a really good question. And I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit.”

When pressed on Texas’ anti-abortion laws, Cohen replied, “By that reasoning, we should not sell any ice cream anywhere. I’ve got issues with what’s being done in almost every state and country.”