Florida announced on Wednesday it would end its financial ties with ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever PLC, following the former's decision to cease marketing its products in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Ash Williams, executive director and chief investment officer of the State Board of Administration, was quoted Tuesday by the Miami Herald as saying he anticipated Unilever will be added to what is known as Florida’s list of “scrutinized companies that boycott Israel,” prohibiting state investments and contracts with the companies.
The announcement came fresh on the heels of a similar Arizona declaration, with the Grand Canyon state saying it would pull all public funds it has invested in the ice cream parlor chain.
Ben & Jerry's statement came last July following pressure from pro-Palestinian groups on the Vermont-based company over its business in Israel and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, handled through a licensee partner since 1987.
"We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners," the company wrote on Twitter in July without specifying what it considered "Occupied Palestinian Territory."
The company also said it will not renew the license agreement with its Israeli franchise when it expires at the end of next year.
Arizona state treasurer Kimberly Yee — a Republican who is running for governor of her state — said the decision to pull all public funds invested in the frozen dessert company was in compliance with a 2019 state law that bars Arizona government agencies from holding investments or doing more than $100,000 in business with any firm that boycotts Israel or its territories.
"Arizona created a national movement holding companies accountable for boycotting Israel by divesting public funds from woke companies," Yee posted on her Twitter feed. “Israel is and will continue to be a major trade partner of AZ. #IStandWithIsrael and I will not allow taxpayer dollars to go towards anti-Semitic, discriminatory efforts against Israel.”
Arizona and Florida were the first states to have fully divested themselves from Ben & Jerry's and Unilever while Illinois and New Jersey, among other states, warned they would pull any public-funded investments if the company's board does not change its decision within three months.
Florida and Arizona have $139 million and $143 million in holdings in Unilever and its subsidiaries, respectively.
Ben & Jerry's Israel CEO Avi Zinger commended both U.S. states, saying that "ice cream is not a part of politics."
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan appealed to 35 states that had passed anti-boycott laws to take steps to sanction the frozen dessert franchise for its policy.