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NY state pension fund to divest from Ben & Jerry's over Israel settlements pullout

November 1, 2021 at 2:06 pm

An Israeli flag is set atop a delivery truck outside US ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s factory on 21 July 2021 [EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images]

New York State’s state pension fund said it will cut its shares in London-based Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, as a result of the ice-cream firm’s decision to stop selling its products in illegal settlements located in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, said last week, that Ben & Jerry’s decision in July to stop the sale of its products in settlements based in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories violated his office’s policy against the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel.

“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,” DiNapoli said in a statement to The Post.

The New York State Joint Retirement Fund has a total equity stake in Unilever worth $111 million, he added. The fund is the third largest public pension fund in the United States.

The move comes after DiNapoli’s director of corporate governance, Liz Gordon, sent a warning notice to Unilever CEO, Alan Jope, that Ben & Jerry’s was engaging in a BDS action against Israel.

READ: Florida stops investing in Ben & Jerry’s parent company 

Jope responded in August defending Ben & Jerry’s actions, saying Unilever does not intervene in actions taken by the “independent” boards or the “social mission” of its brands.

In a letter, Jope said, “Unilever has a strong and long-standing commitment to our business in Israel. We employ nearly 2,000 people in the country across our four factories and head office, and we have invested approximately $250 million in the Israeli market over the last decade.”

“On this decision, it was no different. Ben & Jerry’s has also made it clear that, although the brand will not be present in the West Bank from 2023, it will remain in Israel through a different business arrangement,” he added.

Pension officials in other states including New Jersey, New York, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Maryland and Rhode Island, are also either in the process of divesting from Unilever or considering the move, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

Following the backlash, Ben & Jerry’s founders stated that they are “proud Jews”, that Israel was one of their first overseas markets and that they are “supporters of the State of Israel”.

However, they conveyed in an opinion piece published by the New York Times: “It’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the US government.”