Colorado invokes pro-Israel law to divest Ben & Jerry’s pension fund

JTA — In 2016, Colorado’s state pension fund passed a law committing economic loyalty to Israel.

That law is now being invoked as the state becomes the seventh to punish ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s for the company’s 2021 commitment to stop selling ice cream in the ‘occupied Palestinian territories’.

The board of directors of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association of Colorado voted unanimously on Friday to begin proceedings to divest its holdings to Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, the Denver Post reported. The association was inspired by the 2016 law, signed by the Democratic government of the time. John Hickenlooper, who demands that the state pension divest from any foreign company that has “economic prohibitions against Israel”.

“Ben & Jerry’s made politically motivated comments about leaving Israel,” Amy McGarrity, the fund’s chief investment officer, told the board, according to the Denver Post.

Ben & Jerry’s is based in Vermont, but is considered a foreign company because Unilever is a British conglomerate. He said refusing to do business in the occupied territories does not constitute a boycott of Israel itself.

But that distinction doesn’t sit well with Colorado’s pension review board, or other state funds that have invoked similar state anti-boycott laws to divest Unilever’s holdings following the declaration of the company.

The Colorado law, which is expected to affect about $42 million the fund had invested in Unilever, was one of a series of state laws being considered or passed in 2016 that sought to use economic pressure as an explicit attempt to counter the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. targeting Israel.

The use of public pension funds as bargaining chips in Ben & Jerry’s reaction is also significant given the growing importance of investment companies in Israel’s proxy war. In a notable skirmish, the multibillion-dollar investment research firm Morningstar has come under scrutiny from pro-Israel groups for allegedly downgrading Israeli investments.

The Colorado pension board’s vote triggers a 180-day period of dialogue with Unilever, after which the state would take about a year to fully divest its stakes if company policy did not change. Unilever said its ownership agreement with Ben & Jerry’s means the ice cream maker retains a high degree of independence and cannot be undone by the conglomerate.

Colorado would become the seventh state to sue Unilever economically over Ben & Jerry’s claims. Four others – New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Arizona – also announced similar plans to divest state pension funds to the conglomerate, while Florida halted new investments in Unilever and Texas said was limiting business with Ben & Jerry’s. Some other states have triggered reviews of their contracts with the company, but have yet to announce formal economic sanctions.

Meanwhile. Ben & Jerry’s Israeli subsidiary is also suing Unilever in US court in an attempt to pressure the company to keep its contracts. The lawsuit describes Ben & Jerry’s statement as a “boycott of parts of Israel.”

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