Florida takes Ben & Jerry’s step into Israel
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Florida will not put state money in Ben & Jerry’s parent company unless it reverses its decision to stop selling ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and disputed East Jerusalem, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday.
The Republican governor said the state’s board has added London-based Unilever to its list of “controlled companies” boycotting Israel. This means that if Ben & Jerry’s position on Israel is not reversed within 90 days, Florida will not invest or contract with Unilever or its affiliates.
“In law and in principle, the State of Florida will not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the people of Israel,” the Republican governor said in a press release. “I will not stand idly by while awakened corporate ideologues seek to boycott and part ways with our ally, Israel. “
The move, similar to those in other states, comes after Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s announced last month that it would stop selling its products in territories the Palestinians wanted.
Company founders Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield said in a recent New York Times opinion piece that they no longer control the company but endorse action in Israel as reflecting their progressive values. The company has a long history of advocating for social justice.
“We are also proud Jews. It’s part of who we are and how we’ve identified ourselves throughout our lives. As our business began to expand internationally, Israel was one of our first overseas markets. We were then, and remain today, supporters of the State of Israel, ”said the founders. “But it is possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we have opposed the policies of the US government.
Unilever’s 400 brands include a wide variety of everyday consumer products such as Dove personal care products, Lipton tea, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Sunlight soap and, of course, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Unilever CEO Alan Jope said last week that Unilever is “fully committed” to doing business with Israel despite Ben & Jerry’s decision on the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In an email Tuesday, Unilever said it employs more than 2,000 people in Israel and that the company “completely rejects and unequivocally repudiates any form of discrimination or intolerance.”
“Anti-Semitism has no place in any society,” the company said, adding that Ben & Jerry’s would continue to sell ice cream in parts of Israel “through a different trade deal.”
Florida officials said the company told them in a phone call Wednesday that there were no plans to change Ben & Jerry’s stance on Israel. It was not immediately clear what types of investments or contracts Florida currently has with Unilever or its subsidiaries.
“We will continue to work with the SBA to ensure Florida law enforcement for those who target our friends in Israel,” said Jimmy Patronis, Florida chief financial officer.
Israel does not differentiate between settlements in the West Bank and the rest of its territory. When home rental company Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer list properties in the West Bank, Israel harshly condemned the move and ultimately pressured the company to reverse the decision.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations Gilad Erdan recently sent a letter to governors of 35 U.S. states urging them to punish Unilever under anti-boycott laws like Florida’s.
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