Unilever under pressure to end Ben & Jerry's Israel boycott

Ben & Jerry's Photo: PR
Ben & Jerry's Photo: PR

Ben & Jerry's Israel CEO Avi Zinger: Unilever and Ben & Jerry's thought the storm would blow over after two weeks and the criticism would subside.

Pressure is growing on British multinational consumer gods company Unilever plc (NYSE: UL; LSE: ULVR), the owner of Ben & Jerry's, over the refusal of the ice cream company to allow its Israeli franchisee to sell products in Judea and Samaria. Unilever's share price has fallen about 12% over the past few months, since the dispute erupted in July, a much bigger fall than the share price of other major consumer goods companies.

The first economic steps taken was the disinvestment from Unilever shares traded on Wall Street by seven US states including states like Texas, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Arizona, which have major pension fund investments. New York alone had pension fund holdings of $100 million in the corporation's shares. Another 33 states have said they are considering taking similar action against Unilever and Ben and Jerry's, which is based in Vermont.

Over the past few weeks, two important developments have occurred. In the first Attorney Generals from 12 states wrote to Unilever CEO Alan Jope expressing their deep concern over Unilever's decision to impose a boycott on the State of Israel. "Not only is Israel one of our nation’s closest and most reliable allies, but it is also the only democratic nation in the region and has long been a force for peace and stability," the Attorney Generals said.

They stressed that 33 states have passed anti-BDS statutes that prohibit investment of public pension funds or the awarding of government procurement contracts to companies that boycott Israel, and they asserted that they will not hesitate to use the statutes against Unilever. The letter expressed the Attorney Generals disappointment in Unilever's efforts to shirk responsibility for Ben & Jerry's by allowing the "tail to wag the dog." The letter also charges Unilever and Ben & Jerry's with hypocrisy by failing to boycott countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela where human rights and international law are violated and especially Iran "the hotbed of terrorism in the Middle East." The letter concludes by threatening to act against Unilever with the full force of the legislation against BDS.

The second development was an urgent warning letter sent last week to Unilever by US Congressman Ritchie Torres (Democrat) to the chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Gary Gensler with a request to review whether Ben & Jerry's has violated regulatory protocols in its decision to boycott Israel.

Torres wrote, "Unilever is a widely held company with a current market capitalization of $135 billion, which places in jeopardy the manifold US institutions, pension funds, and endowments which hold its shares on behalf of its beneficiaries." The letter was cosigned by other Democrat and Republican Party Members of Congress.

Ben & Jerry's Israel CEO Avi Zinger told "Globes" that Unilever and Ben & Jerry's thought that the storm would blow over after two weeks and the criticism would subside. "The opposite has happened and processes that needed time to gain momentum are happening now - more and more states and institutions are withdrawing investments, state governors are publishing harsh declarations and withdrawing their money.

He added that an event recently attended by senior jurists, attorney generals and state attorneys from the Republican Party resolved to take more severe legal and economic measures against Unilever and Ben & Jerry's, similar to the sanctions imposed on Iran and its banks, due to its financing of terror.

Zinger has appeared in several US forums on this issue and is severely critical of the Israeli government for doing virtually nothing on the matter besides a few bombastic statements when the boycott was first announced. He demands that the government puts pressure on US administration sources to work against Unilever for violating legislation in many US states, and also bring into the struggle Christian organizations and friends of Israel.

The campaign is being managed by organizations and NGOs like Stand With Us, while government bodies remain silent, Zinger said.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 6, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

Ben & Jerry's Photo: PR
Ben & Jerry's Photo: PR
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