Illinois’ state pension board will divest from Unilever over Ben and Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in West Bank

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(JTA) — Illinois’ state pension will divest from Unilever, the parent company of Ben and Jerry’s, over the ice cream company’s decision this summer to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank as a protest of Israel’s occupation of the area.

The  Illinois Investment Policy Board voted 7-0 to add Uniliver to its “prohibited entity list.”  It was not yet clear when state agencies would have to divest from the company.

Illinois becomes at least the fifth state to divest from Unilever, although the dictates vary; some states require no further investment but allow existing investments to remain in place.

The other states divesting from Uniliver because of Ben & Jerry’s decision are New York, New Jersey, Arizona and Illinois. At least three other states among the 34 states that penalize Israel boycotts have launched reviews that could lead to divestment.

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The ice cream company announced in July that it would stop selling ice cream in the West Bank. In announcing the decision, the company broke a two-month silence on social media that began with the violent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in May.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said at the time. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”

In 2015, Illinois became the first state to pass a law barring the state pension fund from investing in companies that participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

Since then, some 33 states have passed similar laws or issued executive orders prohibiting state pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel.

In July, Israel’s ambassador to the United States Gilad Erdan wrote a letter to the governors of those states asking them to enforce their anti-BDS laws and divest from Ben and Jerry’s.

It was unclear at the time whether the Ben and Jerry’s decision would impact Unilever, which bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 from its Jewish founders, Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, under a unique arrangement that allows an external board to determine how the company embraces social and political causes. Ben & Jerry’s said at the time that it remained committed to selling its ice cream within Israel’s 1967 lines, although that might be impossible under Israeli law.


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