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Texas Investigates Ben And Jerry’s For Potentially Boycotting Israel

FILE PHOTO: Tubs of ice-cream are seen as a labourer works at Ben & Jerry's factory in Be'er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
FILE PHOTO: Tubs of ice-cream are seen as a labourer works at Ben & Jerry's factory in Be'er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The State of Texas has launched an investigation into Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream over the company’s decision to stop selling its product toIsraeli settlements. The company made the announcement Monday that it would stop selling on occupied Palestinian territory.

Ben and Jerry’s hasn’t shied away from progressive causes. It has supported Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. The ice cream makers’ decision to enter the Middle Eastern fray has caused a political uproar internationally, with Israeli officials calling the move anti-Semetic.

In Texas, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar directed his staff to examine statements by the specialty pint maker and its parent company Unilever. Under a 2017 law, Texas doesn’t allow state or local governments to contract with companies that have “boycotted” Israel. So while you’ll still find Cherry Garcia at the local grocer, you may not find it at a city ice cream social.

It also could mean the company loses big money. Under the 2017 law, state governed investment funds like the $27 billion Employee Retirement System or the $165 billion Teacher Retirement System of Texas would have to sell off any stock they have within a year.

The $254 billion New York Common Retirement Fund has already warned Ben and Jerry’s parent company Unilever that it could restrict investment going forward. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked that both Unilever and Ben and Jerry’s be placed on a “continued examination list,” much like Texas.

"Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel," said CEO Alan Jope in a recent investor earnings call.

Jope said the ice cream maker made the decision on its own with its independent board.

The international community has called the settlements illegal, but that distinction may not matter here in Texas.

“Texans have made it very clear that they stand with Israel and its people. We are against those wishing to undermine Israel's economy and its people,” Hegar said in a statement.

The comptroller maintains a list of companies it has found to be boycotting Israel. It currently lists just nine companies, a couple of which read as though they were plucked off a map of rural Norway. The list was updated in June, meaning the earliest the ice cream maker could be banned from Texas for banning Israel is September.

The law was passed in response to what its author saw as attempts to isolate Israel from the global community.

In his statement, the Texas comptroller also shilled for a Texas ice cream maker.

“Blue Bell was founded in Brenham, Texas, and, for my money, tastes much better than the stuck-up stuff made by a foreign-owned company started in Vermont,” Hegar said in a statement.

Six years ago, the company was linked to a listeria outbreak that made about 10 people sick and killed three people in Kansas.

Federal regulators found the company had unsanitary conditions from 2010-2015. Those conditions and the direction of the CEO to stop testing for listeria was responsible for the outbreak, according to court documents.

A grand jury charged its former president Paul Kruse with seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to his attempts to cover up the tainted ice cream.

“Kruse allegedly orchestrated a scheme to deceive certain Blue Bell customers, including by directing employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without notifying retailers or consumers about the real reason for the withdrawal,” read the indictment.

Kruse is still fighting in federal court. Blue Bell paid more than $19 million in penalties.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org