Illinois calls for Ben & Jerry’s divestment from Israel

Updated Wednesday July 28, 2021 | 7:27 p.m.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois regulators plan to warn Ben & Jerry’s owner to reverse the company’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank and East Jerusalem or face it state divestment, an official said on Wednesday.

The Illinois Investment Policy Council’s Boycott Restrictions Committee of Israel will meet to approve setting a 90-day deadline for Unilever to reverse Ben & Jerry’s decision, the committee chairman said, Andy Lappin.

There is no date set for the meeting, but it will be called specifically to respond to the Vermont confectioner’s July 19 announcement that continuing to market its product in the territories sought by Palestinians is “inconsistent with our values”.

This is considered one of the toughest condemnations by a well-known company of Israel’s policy of settling citizens on war-won land. Lappin said “the blatant nature of the statement is almost unprecedented.”

The Illinois Investment Policy Board monitors compliance with state law prohibiting investment in certain companies that do business with Iran and Sudan as well as companies that boycott Israel.

“We will meet in the next week just over this issue, asking the board to send a letter to Unilever giving it 90 days to confirm or deny” Ben & Jerry’s position, Lappin said. “In this case, it was an openly open statement made by the chairman of Ben & Jerry’s and we must determine whether Unilever deems it appropriate to reverse the statement.”

A spokeswoman for Democratic Governor JB Pritzker, the state’s third Jewish governor, declined to respond to requests for comment on the legality of Ben & Jerry’s plans.

The Unilever CEO said late last week that the company remains “fully committed” to doing business with Israel and has tried to distance Unilever from the Ben & Jerry announcement. But CEO Alan Jope hasn’t said he’ll demand Ben & Jerry’s back down from his plans.

In the event of non-compliance, Illinois law would require the divestiture of Unilever or one of its subsidiaries, Lappin said. State-run pension systems are currently reviewing their portfolios for interest related to Unilever.

Ben & Jerry’s founders Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield said in a New York Times editorial on Wednesday that they no longer control the company, but are “proud” of its work.

“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.

The Investment Policy Board last took action against Airbnb when in 2018, former governor Bruce Rauner denounced the online hosting market for its “heinous and discriminatory” action by announcing it would remove the West Bank lists.

Airbnb avoided the Illinois divestment by reversing its decision and certifying state regulators in August 2019 that it was not violating the restriction on boycotting Israel.

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Follow political writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor.

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