The $90 billion New Jersey pension fund on Sept. 14 announced plans that it may divest from Unilever, the parent corporation for ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, following its decision over the summer to not sell any product in Israel-occupied Palestinian territories.
Under a 2016 state law, New Jersey cannot officially do business with any company that takes part in that practice, known as “Boycott, Divest, Sanction.”
Shoaib Khan, director of the state Division of Investment, makes note of this in a Sept. 2 letter addressed to Unilever Chief Executive Officer Alan Jope, saying that so far the state has only reached a preliminary decision that the company violated the 2016 law.
It’s not immediately clear how much Unilever assets in dollars New Jersey currently holds. But the state is giving Unilever 90 days to appeal the findings before the state government formally goes ahead with it and makes a final determination that they violated the state’s anti-BDS law.
“[T]he division reached a preliminary determination that Unilever’s actions did in fact constitute such a boycott and sent a letter to Unilever notifying the company of its provisional determination,” Khan said in a Sept. 14 statement.
“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.”
Unilever’s company headquarters is based in Englewood Cliffs. When reached for comment, Ben & Jerry’s officials deferred to their initial July announcement.
Unilever’s other brands include Hellmann’s, Good Humor and Lipton, which has a manufacturing plant in Israel. It did not specify what the arrangement in the majority-Jewish state will look like come next year.
“Our decision to exit the OPT was based on our belief that it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation,” a statement read on July 19. “Speaking and acting on our values is neither anti-Israel nor antisemitic.”
Other states like Arizona made similar moves just days earlier, saying that the state worker pension fund would sell off any Unilever bonds and other assets in protest of its decision around Israel.
Our decision to exit the OPT was based on our belief that it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation. Speaking and acting on our values is neither anti-Israel nor antisemitic.
– Ben & Jerry’s said in a July statement
“We commend the State of New Jersey for their decision, delivering a rebuke to those who would discriminate against the State of Israel – an ally of the United States and a vibrant economic partner of the State,” reads a joint statement issued Sept. 14 from the heads of the Jewish Federation’s five New Jersey chapters.
State officials and Jewish and Israeli leaders pressed New Jersey and other states to drop Unilever following its July decision.
Retiring Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, who is Jewish, authored a letter along with the Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, asking the state to look at whether Ben & Jerry’s violated the state law.
“We stand firmly against any and all BDS efforts against Israel and we are hopeful, that in the spirit of this law, that you will thoughtfully review Ben & Jerry’s recent action and what steps New Jersey, through your office, can and should take in response,” Kean and Weinberg said in July, in a letter addressed to the State Investment Council, a voting body of the state pension fund.
Israeli Ambassador to the United states Gilad Erdan wrote to Gov. Phil Murphy and 34 other states, asking that they “consider speaking out against the company’s decision, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben & Jerry’s and your state.”
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