(December 22, 2021 / JNS) The Illinois Investment Policy Board voted on Wednesday to divest the state’s pension funds from Unilever.
The move comes after a July announcement by its subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, that it plans to stop selling its product in parts of Israel that it calls “occupied Palestinian territories,” but are in fact parts of Israel including eastern Jerusalem and the Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank. Though owned by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s maintains some decision-making autonomy, particularly around social issues.
Several states, including Illinois, have laws on the books that prohibit them from investing in companies that boycott Israel, leading them to reconsider their stakes in Unilever. Already, Arizona has sold off $93 million worth of investments, while New Jersey began pulling out its $182 million investment earlier this month.
Responding to the Illinois decision, Yinam Cohen, the consul general of Israel to the Midwest, said, “Israel has always claimed that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be reached through direct, bilateral negotiations between the two sides. Any third party’s attempts to predetermine the parameters of the final status agreement are counterproductive to solving the conflict. Today’s decision by the Illinois Investment Policy Board towards Unilever reaffirms this message.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also praised the move, saying that “The Board’s action is in response to the company’s failure to hold its subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, accountable for unfairly targeting an Israeli licensee, which refused to engage in a Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Jews and Palestinians living in the West Bank. Unilever’s actions, or lack thereof, violate existing Illinois laws that prohibit government investment in entities that boycott Israel.”
“We call on Unilever to exercise its contractual right to overrule the misguided decision of the Board of Directors of its subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s. We continue to support legal efforts in over 30 states to hold to account companies that engage in similar boycotts of Israel and demand that Unilever publicly reject this shameful, discriminatory campaign,” wrote Dianne Lob, Chair, William Daroff, CEO, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair, of the Conference of Presidents.
Not all agree. Earlier, the group Americans for Peace Now had released a letter asking the policy board to “refrain from adding Unilever PLC to the Illinois Prohibited Investment List,” saying to do so would be a “departure” from U.S. foreign policy. Referring to themselves as “Jewish Illinoisans” they said the decision by Ben & Jerry’s “to cease sales of its product in Israeli settlements is a principled pro-Israel position.”
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