Tubs of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a Unilever brand, are seen at their shop in London. Photo: Reuters/Hannah McKay
JNS.org – The Illinois Investment Policy Board voted on Wednesday to divest the state’s pension funds from Unilever.
The move comes after a July announcement by Unilever’s subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, that it plans to stop selling its product in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Though owned by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s maintains some decision-making autonomy, particularly around social issues.
Several states, including Illinois, have laws on the books that prohibit them from investing in companies that boycott Israel, leading them to reconsider their stakes in Unilever. Arizona has already sold off $93 million worth of investments, while New Jersey began pulling out its $182 million investment earlier this month.
Responding to the Illinois decision, Yinam Cohen, the consul general of Israel to the Midwest, said, “Israel has always claimed that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be reached through direct, bilateral negotiations between the two sides. Any third party’s attempts to predetermine the parameters of the final status agreement are counterproductive to solving the conflict. Today’s decision by the Illinois Investment Policy Board towards Unilever reaffirms this message.”
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Not all agree. The group Americans for Peace Now previously released a letter asking the policy board to “refrain from adding Unilever PLC to the Illinois Prohibited Investment List,” saying to do so would be a “departure” from US foreign policy. Referring to themselves as “Jewish Illinoisans” they said the decision by Ben & Jerry’s “to cease sales of its product in Israeli settlements is a principled pro-Israel position.”