North Carolina will hold off on withdrawing its investments from Ben & Jerry’s holding company Unilever because of its decision to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced Friday.
Folwell was pressured by ethics watchdog group National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) to divest from the company, but he said he made the decision based on North Carolina law.
State law prohibits the treasurer or the state’s retirement system from investing in companies that boycott Israel. More than 30 states have a similar law, the NLPC said.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream announced in July it would not renew its license to sell ice cream in the area also known as the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations, the area is occupied by Israel. The company said, however, it was not boycotting Israel and would stay in the country through a different business arrangement scheduled to be announced later.
The NLPC sent a letter to Folwell on Tuesday demanding he join others in “the immediate divestiture of Unilever holdings in all public pension funds managed and controlled by the State of North Carolina.”
The organization sent a similar letter to New York officials and filed a complaint to the IRS against the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation and its board of directors chair, Anuradha Mittal.
“Mittal is the architect of the ice cream company’s policy to end sales in Israel’s ‘occupied territories,’ ” NLPC’s Paul Chesser said in the letter to Folwell. “Reportedly, Mittal also proposed a boycott of all of Israel. Her Twitter account has many anti-Israel tweets, and contains specific endorsements of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.”
Arizona and New Jersey have divested from the company because of the announcement, but Folwell said he would retain North Carolina’s Unilever investment until the company terminates its license with the distributor in Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s said selling ice cream in the OPT is “inconsistent” with its “values” and rejected claims of being anti-Israel or antisemitic.
“We’re a values-led company with a long history of advocating for human rights, and economic and social justice,” Ben & Jerry’s said. “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for our product to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation.”