Gov. DeSantis targets Ben & Jerry’s over its planned boycott of the Occupied Territories

By: - July 23, 2021 3:49 pm

Ben & Jerry’s Cowsmobile, photographed in 2011. Credit: Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Ron DeSantis has threatened to sanction the progressive ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever over the company’s decision to stop selling its products in the occupied West Bank.

DeSantis said in a letter Thursday evening to Ash Williams, who manages the state’s investments, that the company’s decision to withdraw from what the governor referred to as the Biblical names “Judea and Samaria” fall “squarely” under a state law targeting the so-called “boycott, divestment, and sanctions,” or BDS, movement.

The law bars the state from investing in or giving contracts to companies “terminating business activities, or taking other actions to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”

The law refers to “scrutinized companies,” which first must be given an opportunity back down from a boycott.

“As a matter of law and principle, the state of Florida does not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the Israeli people, including boycotts and divestments targeting Israel,” DeSantis wrote.

DeSantis and the members of the Florida Cabinet sit as the State Board of Administration, with ultimate authority over investment strategy.

“Should the State Board of Administration affirmatively place Unilever and its corporate entities on the scrutinized companies list and these companies do not cease the boycott of Israel as required by Florida law, the board must refrain from acquiring any and all Unilever assets consistent with the law,” the governor wrote.

The state has about $124 million invested in the companies, according to John Kuczwanski, the investment agency’s manager for external affairs, against total investments of more than $200 billion. The law does not require divestment of funds places in scrutinized companies, he said.

DeSantis and the Cabinet took a similar position shortly after he took office, threatening sanctions against Airbnb after it withdrew listings in the West Bank, which Israel has administered since the Six Day War in 1967. That company ultimately backed down.

According to Amnesty International, the Israeli government has displaced Palestinians living in the area through forced demolitions of their homes and other coercion; has made arbitrary arrests and practiced torture; and discriminates against Palestinian residents of the territories and of Israel, itself.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said in a written statement on Monday. The company said it planned to continue sales in Israel proper.

DeSantis, a conservative Republican, aspires to be the most pro-Israel governor in the United States, and in May of his first year in office led an economic-development mission to the country, including excursions into the occupied zone.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who sits on the Cabinet, wrote to Ben & Jerry’s on Thursday warning that “Ben & Jerry’s brazen refusal to do business in Israel will result in your placement on the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List.”

He gave the company until Sept. 19 to declare its intentions. That’s the date of the next scheduled Cabinet meeting.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.