The Iowa Senate passed a bill on Monday to prohibit state funds from being invested in companies that boycott Israel, in a move that lawmakers said specifically targets the ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s and its boycott of eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Amending a 2016 Israel anti-boycott law signed by former Gov. Terry Branstad, the bill will include any company that is a “wholly-owned subsidiary, majority-owned subsidiary, parent company, or affiliate of such business or business entity.” The 2016 law only pertained to companies that it defined as “any business or business entity that is publicly traded and that is not based in the United States.”
Ben & Jerry’s, a Vermont-based company, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British conglomerate Unilever.
“As far as I can tell, the sole purpose of this bill is to amend Iowa Code so that Iowa is able to crack down on Unilever for allowing Ben & Jerry’s to refuse to sell their ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territories,” Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton) said as the bill was being debated in the House last week.
Rep. Carter Nordman (R-Adel), the bill’s House floor manager, said the legislation would “ensure that our public investments are not funding companies that participate in the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel movement.”
He added that the sole purpose of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement “is to economically destroy and cripple the state of Israel.”
“If these companies are only going after policies, then why are they not pulling out of China or Russia? Or Georgia or Texas?” Nordman added. “All of these states or countries, they have policy disagreements. But yet they’re only choosing to pull out of Israel.”
The Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) has about $2.7 million in investments that will be subject to the bill if it is signed into law, the Des Moines Register reported. The IPERS Trust Fund consists of nearly $43 billion.
Ben & Jerry’s announced in July 2021 that it would stop selling its products in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, saying at the time, “Our decision to exit the (occupied Palestinian territory) was based on our belief that it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation.”
A number of US states with similar anti-BDS laws have already withdrawn their investments, stocks and pension funds from Unilever, including Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Texas.