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Unilever : Illinois seeks Ben & Jerry's divestment over Israel stance

07/28/2021 | 05:59pm EDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois regulators plan to warn the owner of Ben & Jerry’s to reverse the company's decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank and East Jerusalem or face divestment by the state, an official said Wednesday.

The Israeli Boycott Restrictions Committee of the Illinois Investment Policy Board will meet to approve setting a 90-day deadline for Unilever to reverse the decision by Ben & Jerry’s, committee chairman Andy Lappin said.

There is no date set for the meeting but it will be called specifically to address the July 19 announcement by the Vermont-based confection-maker that continuing to market its product in Palestinian-sought territories is “inconsistent with our values.”

It’s considered one of the strongest condemnations by a well-known company of Israel’s policy of settling citizens on war-won lands. Lappin said that “the egregious nature of the statement is almost unprecedented.”

The Illinois Investment Policy Board monitors compliance with state law prohibiting the investment in certain companies that do business with Iran and Sudan as well as companies that boycott Israel.

“We’ll meet in the next week or so just for this issue, asking the board to send a letter to Unilever giving it 90 days to confirm or deny” Ben & Jerry’s stance, Lappin said. “In this case, it was a blatantly open statement made by the chairman of Ben & Jerry’s and we need to determine if Unilever deems it appropriate to walk the statement back.”

A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the state’s third Jewish governor, has refused to respond to requests for comment about the legality of Ben & Jerry’s plans.

Unilever’s chief executive officer said late last week that the company remains “fully committed” to doing business with Israel and tried to put distance between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s announcement. But CEO Alan Jope did not say he would require Ben & Jerry’s to back off its plans.

If found non-compliant, Illinois law would requires divestment in Unilever or any of it subsidiaries, Lappin said. State-run pension systems are currently investigating their portfolios for Unilever-related interests.

The Investment Policy Board last took action against Airbnb when in 2018 former Gov. Bruce Rauner called out the online lodging marketplace for its “abhorrent and discriminatory” action in announcing it would remove West Bank listings.

Airbnb avoided Illinois divestment by backing off its decision and certifying to state regulators in August 2019 that it was not violating the restriction on boycotting Israel.

Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission., source Associated Press News

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