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October 29, 2021 1:23 pm

New York Pulls $111 Million in Unilever Investments Over Ben & Jerry’s West Bank Boycott

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

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

Israeli officials and US Jewish groups praised New York’s move Friday to pull its $111 million in equity investments out of Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, over the ice cream maker’s boycott of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

A spokesperson for New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Thursday that the companies were determined to be “engaged in BDS activities,” referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

DiNapoli had warned Unilever CEO Alan Jope in July that Ben & Jerry’s decision earlier that month to stop selling its products in what it termed “Occupied Palestinian Territories” could threaten New York state pension fund investments in the UK-based company.

The sole manager of New York’s $263-billion state Common Retirement Fund, DiNapoli issued a policy in 2016 against companies involved in the BDS movement.

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In a statement sent to the New York Post on Thursday, he said, “After a thorough review, the New York State Common Retirement Fund will divest its equity holdings in Unilever PLC. Our review of the activities of the company, and its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s, found they engaged in BDS activities under our pension fund’s policy.”

US Jewish groups including the Simon Wiesenthal Center applauded New York’s decision on Friday.

“Comptroller DiNapoli has demonstrated that boycotting Israel has consequences,” commented Marc Stern, the chief legal officer of the American Jewish Committee. “Unilever’s failure to undo Ben & Jerry’s misguided decision to stop selling its ice cream in the West Bank contravenes state government laws across the United States.”

Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter, “We will continue to fight BDS and antisemitism everywhere and without hesitation.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the US and UN, thanked New York and DiNapoli for showing that “unfairly targeting Israel won’t be tolerated!” He added, “I will continue fighting despicable hatred of & I urge more states to divest from Unilever.”

The New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third-largest public pension fund in the country, holds $111 million in Unilever equity.

Florida on Tuesday restricted the state and local governments from buying new investments in Unilever.

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