DeSantis Won't Let 'Woke Ideologues' Hurt Israel, Florida to Divest From Ben & Jerry's Owner

Florida is making moves to withdraw investment of state resources in the parent company of Ben & Jerry's over the company's decision to close its operations in contested Israeli territories.

The State Board of Administration added the London-based Unilever to its list of "scrutinized companies" that boycott Israel, Governor Ron DeSantis said Tuesday.

"As a matter of law and principle, the state of Florida will not tolerate discrimination against the state of Israel or the Israeli people," the Republican governor said in a news release. "I will not stand idly by as woke corporate ideologues seek to boycott and divest from our ally, Israel."

The action means that Florida will not invest in or contract with Unilever or its subsidiaries if Ben & Jerry's does not change its position. The ice cream enterprise announced last month that it will no longer sell its products in disputed Israeli territory, including the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Ben & Jerry's Israel Location
A man walks past a closed "Ben & Jerry's" ice-cream shop in the Israeli city of Yavne, about 30 kilometres south of Tel Aviv, on July 23, 2021. - On July 19, Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's announced it would no longer sell its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, namely the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have been under control of the Jewish state since 1967. More than 670,000 Jewish settlers live in the two territories, in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

The company's founders, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, said in a recent New York Times opinion piece that they no longer control the company but approve of the action in Israel as reflecting their progressive values. The company has a long history of advocating for social justice.

"We are also proud Jews. It's part of who we are and how we've identified ourselves for our whole lives. As our company began to expand internationally, Israel was one of our first overseas markets. We were then, and remain today, supporters of the State of Israel," the founders said. "But it's possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we've opposed policies of the U.S. government."

Unilever's 400 brands include a wide variety of familiar consumer goods such as Dove personal care products, Lipton tea, Hellmann's mayonnaise, Sunlight soap and, of course, Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday in Florida's action. But its CEO, Alan Jope, said last week that Unilever is "fully committed" to doing business in Israel despite the decision to stop some sales there by Ben & Jerry's.

Florida officials say the company told them in a call Wednesday that there are no plans to change Ben & Jerry's stance on Israel. It wasn't immediately clear what kinds investments or contracts Florida currently has with Unilever or its subsidiaries.

"We'll continue working with the SBA to ensure Florida law is upheld for those who target our friends in Israel," said Jimmy Patronis, Florida's chief financial officer.

Israel does not differentiate between the West Bank settlements and the rest of its territory. When home-rental company Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer list properties in the West Bank, Israel harshly condemned the move and eventually pressured the company into canceling the decision.

Israel's ambassador to the United States and United Nations, Gilad Erdan, recently sent a letter to the governors of 35 U.S. states urging them to punish Unilever under anti-boycott laws such as that in Florida.

Ben & Jerry's Florida Divestment
FILE - In this Tuesday, July 20, 2021 file photo, an Israeli shops at the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory in the Be'er Tuvia Industrial area, southern Israel. Alan Jope the CEO of Unilever on Thursday, July 22, 2021, said the global consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel, distancing himself from this week's announcement by the company's Ben & Jerry's ice cream brand to stop serving Israel's West Bank settlements. Jope gave no indication that Unilever would force Ben & Jerry's to roll back its controversial decision. Tsafrir Abayov, File/AP Photo