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September 15, 2021 9:53 am

New Jersey Poised to Divest Pension Investments in Ben & Jerry’s Parent Unilever Over West Bank Boycott

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Tubs of ice-cream are seen as a labourer works at Ben & Jerry’s factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

New Jersey has threatened to divest pension funds invested in Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever, as the state reached a preliminary conclusion that the ice-cream maker’s decision to stop sales to the West Bank and areas of eastern Jerusalem constitutes a boycott of Israel.

State law prohibits New Jersey from investing or entering in contracts with businesses or people that participate in boycotts of Israel. Earlier this month, New Jersey’s division of investment sent a letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope to notify the conglomerate of the review and that legal action may be taken to conform with state law.

“Upon final determination, no pension fund assets may be invested in the company, and DOI shall take appropriate action to sell or divest any existing pension fund investments,” said Shoaib Khan, Director of the New Jersey division of Investment.

In the letter, New Jersey set a 90-day deadline for Unilever to sway Ben & Jerry’s to backtrack from the announcement before the state would take action to withdraw its pension fund assets. Of its $92.7 billion pension fund portfolio, the state’s holdings in Unilever currently amount to about $182 million in common stocks, corporate bonds and short-term paper, the New Jersey Department of the Treasury told The Algemeiner.

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Ben & Jerry’s announced on July 19 that it would not renew its license agreement with its current Israeli partner, saying that it was “inconsistent” with its values to sell products in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The ice-cream maker said it would continue to sell its products in Israel under a different arrangement.

“Today’s preliminary decision by the New Jersey Division of Investment — like those of other state governments around the country with which Jewish Federations work — sends a strong message that boycotts and discrimination against America’s staunch ally Israel are unacceptable and only serve to undermine the cause of peace,” said Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Eric Fingerhut.

The decision by New Jersey followed this month’s action taken by the state of Arizona to gradually divest all state funds from Unilever. This week, West Virginia state legislator Joshua Higginbotham penned a letter to Governor Jim Justice asking for an investigation into whether Ben & Jerry’s “anti-Israel business decision” violates state law.

“This letter is a formal request asking your office to expeditiously review any purchasing contracts or proposals between the state of West Virginia and any entities owned by Unilever,” the letter read. “I am hopeful this statute applies to this immoral and discriminatory decision and our government can take steps accordingly.”

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