Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) issued one final warning to Unilever — the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s — before she considers divesting state funds from the firm due to its boycott in parts of Israel.
Last summer, the ice cream manufacturer — which frequently endorses Left-leaning policies — revealed that it would cease sales in parts of the Near East purportedly “occupied” by Israelis. In response, New York’s state pension fund pulled $111 million from Unilever in October 2021 since Ben & Jerry’s move violated policies against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. More than 30 states have similar policies.
In November, Hochul sent a 90-day warning letter to Unilever asking for a justification of Ben & Jerry’s move. Unilever vice president and general counsel David Schwarz said in a letter to Hochul that Ben & Jerry’s has “stated publicly that its action is not part of the BDS movement,” according to The Forward.
Schwarz added, “Unilever has never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
New York’s Office of General Services followed up in May requesting a “detailed explanation” of why Ben & Jerry’s action does not constitute a boycott activity. Several pro-Israel organizations sent a letter to Hochul last week urging immediate action.
“More than three months have passed since your 90-day deadline. More than 10 months have passed since Ben & Jerry’s instituted an antisemitic boycott against Israel, which Unilever refused to override,” the letter said. “Consistent with how forcefully other states have responded to Unilever’s and Ben & Jerry’s boycott, New York must finally take decisive action, and add Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s to its boycott list.”
Hochul is now giving Unilever one last chance to prove by July 6 that Ben & Jerry’s has not engaged in boycott activity. Hochul press secretary Hazel Crampton-Hays told The Forward that the initial response from Unilever “did not include important clarifying information central to formulating a determination under the Executive Order.”
Beyond New York, other states have taken action to pull funding from Unilever. Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), for example, said in July 2021 that Ben & Jerry’s had violated state law by boycotting Israel.
“As you know, Florida has long had a strong relationship with the State of Israel. As a matter of law and principle, the State of Florida does not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the Israeli people, including boycotts and divestments targeting Israel,” DeSantis wrote.
In November 2021, Republican and Democratic members of the House of Representatives — noting that Florida, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, and Texas had jettisoned Unilever shares — likewise asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to examine Ben & Jerry’s actions.
In an October 2021 interview, Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were pressed about their boycott decision.
“You guys are big proponents of voting rights. Why do you still sell ice cream in Georgia? Texas — abortion bans. Why are you still selling there?” Alexi McCammond of Axios asked. After a six-second pause, a frazzled Cohen replied, “I don’t know.”
“It’s an interesting question,” he attempted to answer. “I don’t know what that would accomplish. We’re working on those issues, of voting rights, and — I don’t know. You know, I mean, I think you ask a really good question. And I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit.”