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The most recent example involves socially responsible ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, the West Bank and Texas.
Earlier this week, Ben & Jerry’s board said it would no longer allow sales in areas it believes Israel should not control. The company issued a statement saying “we believe it is incompatible with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
The company, now owned by global consumer giant Unilever, has sold its brand in Israel for decades through a local Israeli distributor. Unilever said he would seek a new deal to sell ice cream in Israel, but not in territory the Palestinians claimed for their own state.
In Israel, companies are prevented from treating customers and subsidiaries differently in what Israel calls “disputed territory” from those in what much of the world recognizes as Israeli territory. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this week vowed to “act aggressively” against the ice cream company, founded in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who are Jewish and progressive.
Brian Snyder | Reuters
A spokesman for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott told CNBC on Tuesday night: “Ben and Jerry’s decision to boycott parts of Israel is shameful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East . The statement went on to say, “Unilever, the parent company of Ben and Jerry, must reverse this ill-conceived decision.” “
Abbott signed a bill four years ago that would force Texas pension funds to divest from any companies boycotting Israel.
State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who controls billions of dollars in assets for Texas public pension funds, has previously called on his office to take action. In a statement to CNBC, he said: “I have asked my staff to determine whether a specific action was taken by Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever would trigger a listing under Chapter 808 of the Texas Government Code,” the law passed. in 2017.
It is also possible that sales in states with anti-boycott laws may be affected. If Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever bid on a contract at a public institution, they could be disqualified if the boycott becomes a reality.
Florida state CFO Jimmy Patronis, who controls public pension funds, told CNBC his office began discussing the matter on Tuesday morning. “I find what is happening very worrying,” he said in a text. But he was not ready to say what steps could be taken.
Airbnb was the latest company to find itself embroiled in a similar issue. In 2018, the rental site said it banned listings of Israeli properties in the West Bank, territory that Palestinians claim must be part of their state.
The board of directors of Ben & Jerry’s, which has a unique deal with parent company Unilever allowing an inordinate role in decisions on social issues, this week initiated the decision to withdraw from Israel.
After Ben & Jerry’s statement, Unilever released one of its own on Monday saying “we remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, our brands and our business for several decades.” In addition, the CEO of the company spoke this week with Bennett. After the conversation, the new Israeli prime minister said: “This is an action that has serious consequences, including legal ones, and he (Israel) will take strong action against any boycott directed against its citizens.
Ben & Jerry’s president Anuradha Mittal did not respond to CNBC regarding the impact of the decision and the possibility of state pension funds divesting from Unilever. In a telephone interview Thursday, Ben & Jerry’s spokesperson Sean Greenwood said: “The company has nothing to add beyond the original statement” released on Monday.
Speaking to NBC News earlier this week, Mittal sued Unilever for issuing his own statement on the matter, calling it a “deception.” She added, “I can’t help but think that this is what happens when you have a board of directors with all the women and people of color who lobbied to do the right thing. “
Unilever did not respond to calls or emails from CNBC requesting a reaction to the possibility of a divestment by state pension funds.