Texas limits business with Ben & Jerry's over Israel move

Texas limits business with Ben & Jerry's over Israel move
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Texas on Thursday announced that it will be limiting business with Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, following the ice cream maker’s decision to stop selling its products in certain Israeli-occupied territories. 

Comptroller Glenn Hegar (R) said in a statement that the two companies had been added to the Lone Star State’s “list of companies that boycott Israel.” 

Texas state law defines “boycott Israel” as “refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in an Israeli-controlled territory.”

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Hegar said Thursday that before adding the companies to the state list, his office “carefully reviewed statements and activities by both Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever.” 

“Texas law is clear on this issue, and my office has long supported Israel through our Israel bond holdings as well as our lists of scrutinized companies with ties to Iran and those with ties to foreign terrorist organizations,” he added. 

State agencies are forbidden from doing business with companies on the list, according to the Austin American-Statesman, and state-run pension and investment funds such the Teacher Retirement System cannot invest in them.

Ben & Jerry’s has said that its decision, announced in July, to stop selling products in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory” of the West Bank and east Jerusalem was not a boycott on Israel as a whole. 

Co-founders Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield wrote in a New York Times op-ed over the summer that while they are “proud Jews” and “supporters of the State of Israel," they think “it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government.” 

Days after the company announcement, Texas Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Key CDC panel backs Moderna, J&J boosters GOP senators call on Biden to back down from vaccine mandates DeSantis to call special session of legislature to fight vaccine mandates MORE (R) called the move “disgraceful" and Hegar said that he had directed his staff to evaluate what actions Texas could take against Ben & Jerry’s. 

Other states have made similar decisions to limit business with Ben & Jerry’s over the move, including Florida, which early last month placed Unilever on a list of “scrutinized companies.” 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Key CDC panel backs Moderna, J&J boosters GOP senators call on Biden to back down from vaccine mandates DeSantis to call special session of legislature to fight vaccine mandates MORE (R) said in a statement at the time, “I will not stand idly by as woke corporate ideologues seek to boycott and divest from our ally, Israel.” 

When contacted by The Hill, Unilever declined to comment beyond pointing to an Aug. 12 letter in response to an email from the Texas Treasury Safekeeping Trust Company regarding Ben & Jerry’s decision. 

Unilever told the trust company’s assistant general counsel, Ramsey Abarca, that “Unilever has a strong and longstanding commitment to our business in Israel,” adding that Ben & Jerry’s has “made it clear that although the brand will not be present in the West Bank from 2023, it will remain in Israel through a different business arrangement.”

“We have welcomed this decision to stay in Israel emphatically, and have been seeking to handle this matter in as respectful and sensitive a way as possible,” the corporation added. 

Ben & Jerry's told The Hill that it had nothing further to add beyond its July statement explaining that "it is inconsistent with our values for our product to be present within an internationally recognised illegal occupation." 

"We’re a values-led company with a long history of advocating for human rights, and economic and social justice," the company added in the statement on its website. 

Updated at 12:47 p.m.