Arizona to divest all Unilever holdings over Ben & Jerry’s Israel boycott, state treasurer says

The State of Arizona will scoop out the last of its holdings in British conglomerate Unilever PLC by Sept. 21, state treasurer Kimberly Yee announced this week.

Unilever has come under intense American criticism from several states and other organizations since its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream unit on July 18 announced that it would no longer sell its products in Israeli-controlled West Bank settlements. Critics said Ben & Jerry’s, whose two founders are Jewish, were aligned with the BDS movement that seeks to put pressure on Israel through boycotts, divestiture of investments, and sanctions against the Jewish state.

The conglomerate acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 under a deal in which the ice cream maker could retain an independent board and make certain decisions without Unilever’s approval. However, Ms. Yee said in a letter to Richard Williams of Unilever’s investor relations office in London, “the fact remains that Ben & Jerry’s is a legal subsidiary of Unilever.”

In the letter, she asserted that Unilever “continues to be in violation of Arizona law” because of the West Bank boycott.

As of Sept. 7, Ms. Yee stated in a news release, Arizona had sold $93 million of its holdings in Unilever, and plans to shed the balance by the Sept. 21 deadline.

“I gave Unilever PLC, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, an ultimatum: reverse the action of Ben & Jerry’s or divest itself of Ben & Jerry’s to come into compliance with Arizona law or face the consequences. They chose the latter,” Ms. Yee said. “It does not matter how much investment Unilever PLC has in Israel, with Ben & Jerry’s decision to no longer sell its product in the West Bank, the companies are in violation of the law in Arizona. Arizona will not do business with companies that are attempting to undermine Israel’s economy and blatantly disregarding Arizona’s law.”

Other American states are said to be contemplating moves similar to Arizona’s. Media reports say Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois are weighing sales of their holdings. In early August, Maryland’s Secretary of State John B. Wobensmith told Jewish leaders the state would “act accordingly” if the state were found to have any contracts with Unilever.

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