Arizona plans to divest completely from Ben & Jerry’s following its decision to stop selling ice cream in Israel’s West Bank.
“As Arizona’s chief banking and investment officer, I stand with Israel and I will not allow taxpayer dollars to go towards antisemitic, discriminatory efforts against Israel,” State Treasurer Kimberly Yee said Sept. 7.
Yee announced her candidacy for governor of Arizona on May 17.
As of June 30, Arizona had $143 million worth of investments — in the form of bonds and commercial paper — in Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company. But it will be zero by Sept. 21, after the last investment in Unilever matures.
Ben & Jerry’s announced July 19 that it would continue operating in Israel, but would stop selling ice cream in the West Bank, which the company described as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Israel disputes that designation.
Arizona is among 33 states that have passed laws or issued executive orders targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, according to a database maintained by Lara Friedman on behalf of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Americans for Peace Now, groups that oppose the anti-boycott legislation. Arizona’s 2016 law states that public state entities may not invest money with an entity that boycotts Israel.
Unilever has argued that it is not boycotting Israel.
Unilever CEO Alan Jope said July 22 the company remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel and that it was not involved in Ben & Jerry’s decision.
When Unilever acquired the Vermont company in 2000, it allowed it to retain an independent board and to make decisions not approved by the corporate parent.
Regardless, because Ben & Jerry’s is a legal subsidiary of Unilever, the company is in violation of Arizona law, Yee said in a letter to Unilever Sept. 2.
Friedman, who is also president of the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, said Arizona, Ben & Jerry's and Unilever have all been crystal clear, and the state's law is being applied the way it was intended.
Unilever and Ben & Jerry's say they are not boycotting Israel, but Arizona has defined boycotts to "explicitly apply to 'in territories controlled by Israel,'" she said.
"The law basically says, 'We don't care if you do business inside the sovereign state of Israel, if you are differentiating between the sovereign state of Israel and areas of Israel that are not even under Israeli law, or part of the sovereign state of Israel but are controlled by Israel. We consider that boycotting, and you're done.'"
The State Treasurer’s office has invested more than $30 million in Israel Bonds since 2013.
“Israel is and will continue to be a major trading partner of Arizona,” Yee said.
Four days after the Vermont-based ice cream brand’s announcement, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said on Twitter that Ben & Jerry’s decision “is discrimination.”
“Arizona stands with Israel,” Ducey wrote, and noted Arizona “will not do business with a company that boycotts Israel — in 2016 and 2019 I signed bills to make sure of it.”
Hillel Newman, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Southwest of the United States, said he appreciates Arizona’s friendship.
“Arizona is really a true friend of Israel. I don’t say this about every state,” Newman said. “It’s a wonderful thing when you’ve got a friend like that, who comes out in real time and says, ‘We don’t allow such discrimination in our state.’ That’s a tremendous thing not many governors have done.”
Speaking to Jewish community leaders at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale on July 28, Newman said the move is an example of the BDS movement, which represents an ongoing attack on the legitimacy of Israel.
“Unfortunately, many innocent people are swept up in empty or false slogans” he said. “They don’t understand the real roots of BDS actually comes from those that are against a two-state solution — they want to end Israel as a Jewish state.”
In a 2009 interview with The Electronic Intifada, a publication covering the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti said it “takes no position on the political solution to the conflict,” but advocates for a secular, democratic state based on the right of return for Palestinians.
Many people feel that BDS is a form of criticism of Israel, Newman said. But that is not the case. “The attempt to boycott Israel is another face of the attempt to delegitimize, and in the end, erase Israel.” JN