Tsafrir Abayov / A. NS
Phoenix – Arizona has sold $93 million in Unilever bonds and plans to sell the remaining $50 million it has invested in the global consumer products company due to the Ben & Jerry subsidiary’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the Israeli-occupied territories. A series of actions by countries with anti-Israel boycott laws.
State moves investment Treasury Secretary Kimberly Yee announced this week Under a 2019 state law that bars Arizona government agencies from making investments or doing more than $100,000 in business with any company that boycotts Israel or its territory.
Arizona appears to be the first of 35 states with anti-boycott laws or regulations to completely extricate itself from Unilever after Ben & Jerry’s actions. Illinois warned the company in July that it had 90 days after its investment board meeting to change course or it would sell, too. Florida and other countries have taken similar measures, according to IAC For Action, the political and legislative arm of the Israeli American Council.
While Ben & Jerry’s, based in Vermont, is owned by London-based Unilever, it maintains its own independent board of directors, which Unilever said makes its decision on its social mission. Ben & Jerry’s announced on July 19 that maintaining its presence in the occupied territories was “It goes against our values.”
Ben & Jerry’s decision drew a strong reaction from Israel, which has vowed to “act vigorously” in response to the move, including by urging US governors to punish the company under anti-boycott laws. Arizona and 34 other states have laws against boycotting Israel.
American groups supporting Israel are divided over whether lobbying Unilever for Ben & Jerry’s decision is appropriate. The Israeli American Council urged conservatives to move through the advisory board for action.
IAC for Action Director Joseph Sabbagh described the boycott of Israel as anti-Semitic and said it was important to fight it at the state level.
“The Israeli American community is sensitive to that, because I would say more than other parts of the American Jewish community, we have experienced the national origin aspect of anti-Semitism in a more explicit way,” Sabbagh said on Friday. “That’s really why we’re so proactive. It’s our kids who are affected by this in the classroom and are afraid and afraid and feel bullied…that’s definitely what matters to our community in this matter.”
But the head of J Street, a Washington, DC-based pro-Israel organization that supports a two-state solution, backed Ben & Jerry’s decision and said punishing the company was “extremely dangerous.”
“It is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israeli policy or not sell ice cream in illegal settlements,” he said. President Jeremy Ben-Ami tweeted in July. “It’s actually a really pro-Israel decision.”
Anti-boycott laws face challenges in court, as did Arizona laws after they were first enacted in 2016. A Flagstaff attorney who was hired to help defend incarcerated people sued on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the law violated his rights to free speech .
a A US District Judge in Arizona has blocked the application of the law While the case was going on, but the legislature changed the law to only apply to contracts over $100,000, effectively ending the case as it no longer applied to the Flagstaff Man. The state was ordered to pay $115,000 for his attorney’s fees.
In Arkansas, a weekly newspaper publisher sued to block that state’s law on similar grounds. trial judge Case dismissed, a provision that “boycott of Israel is neither speech nor conduct that is expressive in nature” is protected by the First Amendment. But a divided panel of three judges from the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals He revived the Arkansas Times lawsuit In February, it found that “supporting or promoting a boycott of Israel is constitutionally protected…but the law requires government contractors to refrain from such constitutionally protected activity.”
The verdict isn’t the last word: In June, Eighth Circuit judges agreed to hear the case and overturned the three-judge panel’s decision. They are due to hear arguments in the case later this month.
Both cases were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Meanwhile in Arizona, Yi wrote to Unilever’s investor relations department on September 2 to tell the company that although Ben and Jerry’s is independently run, Arizona law requires it to sell Unilever’s assets if the decision is not overturned.
“Unilever PLC, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, has been given an ultimatum: reverse what Ben & Jerry did or divest Ben & Jerry’s for complying with Arizona law or facing consequences,” Yee, the Republican running for governor, said in a statement. They chose the latter.
Unilever said in an August 2 letter to Deputy Treasurer Mark Swenson that it has never supported a boycott of Israel, known as a boycott of divestment sanctions, or BDS, but that Ben & Jerry’s operates independently. The company has no further comment.
Arizona’s investments were in bonds and commercial paper held in the state’s short-term fixed income investment fund.
“Arizona State will not do business with Israel Boycott Company – in 2016 & 2019, I signed bills to make sure,” the tweet said. Arizona stands with Israel.