The governor of Florida stated that unless the company’s Ben & Jerry subsidiary revokes its decision to stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank, the U.S. state will not invest any money in Unilever.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Tuesday that unless it revokes its decision to stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank and disputed East Jerusalem, Florida will not invest any state funds in Ben. & Jerry’s parent company.
The Republican governor said that the National Executive Council (SBA) included London-based Unilever on its list of “reviewed companies” that are boycotting Israel. This means that if Ben & Jerry’s position on Israel is not reversed within 90 days, Florida will not invest in or contract with Unilever or its subsidiaries.
“As a matter of law and principle, Florida will not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the Israeli people,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “I will not stand idly by, because the awakening corporate theorists are trying to boycott and withdraw our ally Israel.”
The decision is similar to decisions in other states, after Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont announced last month that it would stop selling its products in territories sought by Palestinians.
The company’s founders Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield stated in a recent New York Times review article that they no longer control the company, but agree that the actions taken in Israel reflect their progressive values. The company has long advocated social justice.
“We are also proud Jews. This is a part of who we are and how we recognize ourselves in our lives. As our company begins to expand internationally, Israel is one of our earliest overseas markets. We were and are still Israel today. Supporters of the country,” the founder said. “But it is possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we oppose the policies of the US government.”
Unilever’s 400 brands include a variety of familiar 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 Qiaope said last week that despite Ben & Jerry’s decision on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Unilever is “fully committed” to doing business with Israel.
Unilever said in an email on Tuesday that it has more than 2,000 employees in Israel and that the company “completely rejects and expressly rejects any form of discrimination or intolerance.”
“Anti-Semitism has no place in any society,” the company said, adding that Ben & Jerry’s will continue to sell ice cream in parts of Israel “through different business arrangements.”
Florida officials said the company told them by phone on Wednesday that it had no plans to change Ben & Jerry’s position on Israel. It is unclear what types of investments or contracts Florida currently has with Unilever or its subsidiaries.
Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer, said: “We will continue to work with the SBA to ensure that Florida laws are upheld against those of our friends in Israel.”
Israel does not distinguish between settlements in the West Bank and other territories. When the rental company Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer list properties in the West Bank, Israel severely condemned the move and eventually forced the company to cancel the decision.
The Israeli ambassador to the United States and the United Nations Gilad Erdan recently wrote to the governors of 35 US states urging them to punish Unilever under anti-boycott laws such as Florida.