WOODLAND PARK, NJ – Israeli leaders are calling on states, including New Jersey, to sanction Ben & Jerry’s and its Englewood Cliffs-based parent company after the ice cream maker announced this week it would no longer do business in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The July 19 statement on The Ben & Jerry website has sparked a nationwide debate over a growing boycott movement and the laws New Jersey and 34 other states have passed to push back. The laws call for relinquishing and restricting doing business with companies or individuals who support any boycott of Israel and its West Bank settlements.
New Jersey Law, adopted five years ago, requires the State pension funds pull out of pro-boycott companies.
“The Investments Division is aware of the situation and is working to determine whether steps need to be taken to ensure continued compliance with the state’s anti-BDS law,” said Jennifer Sciortino, Treasury communications director of the state, in an email. Friday.
Gov. Phil Murphy “was disappointed with Ben and Jerry’s decision,” press secretary Alyana Alfaro Post said in a separate statement Thursday. “The governor believes that we must continue to work towards the common goal of peace and mutual respect.”
The law puts New Jersey in a bind. Lawmakers passed it with near unanimous support in 2016, but the consequences could now be felt by one of the state’s big employers. Unilever plc, the British conglomerate that owns Ben & Jerry’s, operates its US operations from a 321,000 square foot campus in Englewood Cliffs, where it employs 1,600 people.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he warned the company and its CEO of “serious consequences, including legal” on the actions of the ice cream maker.
Unilever responded in a statement Monday: “We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have been investing in our people, our brands and our business for several decades,” wrote the company, which owns hundreds of consumer brands including Dove, Lipton, Hellman’s and Vaseline.
“Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognized the right of the brand and its independent board of directors to make decisions regarding its social mission. We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will remain in Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s, a Vermont company founded by two American Jews, is known for taking a stand on social justice issues. He said he would continue to operate in Israel but stop sales in the controversial West Bank settlements and areas of East Jerusalem.
“We believe it is incompatible with our values that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company wrote. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners. “
“Incompatible with our values”:Ben & Jerry’s plans to end ice cream sales in occupied Palestinian territory after backlash
But the move angered supporters of the Israeli government, who likened the move to anti-Semitism and said it was trying to “delegitimize” Israel. Some kosher supermarkets have taken it off the shelves.
Dani Secemski, the owner of Glatt Express in Teaneck, said Ben & Jerry’s, a certified kosher product, has been removed from the freezer section.
He denounced the decision, he said, to boycott the “freest and most democratic country in the Middle East, while continuing to sell in countries with atrocious human rights record.”
“Designating Israel as the only Jewish state and attacking its sovereignty can only be called anti-Semitic,” Secemski said.
In a letter to 35 states, including New Jersey, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, called for sanctions, stating that “swift and determined action must be taken to counter such discriminatory actions and anti-Semitic “.
But progressive groups, including some Jewish organizations, have supported calls for companies to cease operations in the settlements. They say this will increase international pressure on Israel to end its occupation and stop the expansion of settlements they see as a major obstacle to peace.
The settlements have fueled the seizure of Palestinian land and human rights abuses and restricted freedom of movement for non-Jews, say critics and leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS leaders say it is inspired by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
The Texas comptroller on Thursday asked his staff to investigate whether Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever should be placed on a banned business list. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also called for companies to be added to the state’s Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List.
There is precedent in New Jersey for law enforcement. In 2018, the state withdrew from Danske Bank after refusing to do business with two Israeli defense firms, Elbit Systems and Aryt Industries.
The Danish company said it was not boycotting Israel but had a list of companies which it said “do not meet the requirements of responsible investment principles.”
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit, said sanctions against American companies were unlikely to be taken to court.
In previous cases in Georgia, Texas and Arkansas, courts have ruled against states trying to enforce laws that punish boycott supporters or those who refuse to sign an anti-boycott pledge, citing issues of freedom of expression. Those laws were more restrictive than New Jersey’s, but Zogby believes New Jersey wouldn’t pass the mark either.
“We’ve never lost a case in court yet,” Zogby said. “If they apply it, they will be hit by the court because it is clearly unconstitutional.”
“It’s a question of human rights”:Thousands of people across the United States join global protests in solidarity with Palestine
Checking the facts:Black Lives Matter tweeted in favor of Palestinians, not Hamas
Follow Hannan Adely on Twitter @adelyreporter