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Unilever investor: Ben & Jerry’s boycott fallout will be ‘lesson’ to multinationals

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The fallout from an attempt by ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s to boycott the West Bank will have a chilling effect on other corporations that may consider supporting efforts to economically isolate Israel, an activist investor predicted this week.

Michael Ashner, a longtime corporate activist who bought a stake in parent company Unilever after the boycott announcement and led a group opposed to move, said other conglomerates should take heed of the repercussions suffered by the UK conglomerate since Ben & Jerry’s announced a boycott of the “occupied Palestinian territories” last year.

The move triggered massive financial blowback for Unilever, as a number of US states enacted laws requiring them to divest from companies that boycott Israel. The Securities and Exchange Commission also launched an investigation into Unilever’s response to the boycott. Ben & Jerry’s made the boycott decision independently from Unilever, which it was able to do under its acquisition agreement with the corporate behemoth.

On Thursday, Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s Israel announced a deal resolving a federal court case filed by the Israeli vendor that produces and distributes Ben & Jerry’s in the country. The agreement grants the Israeli licensee independence to continue operating in Israel and the West Bank, essentially quashing the boycott.

“Other multinational companies will think twice before they engage in BDS activities in the future. That’s the lesson from this,” Ashner told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Ashner has a history of corporate activism with the Winthrop Capital Partners investment group in New York. He said he saw the boycott as a threat to the Jewish state, a place the US-based investor feels connected to.

“If multinational companies could start cutting off Israel because of BDS, that was as dangerous to the existence of Israel as Iran. It’s a very bad, slippery slope,” he said. “The first and loudest to do it was Unilever and somebody had to confront Unilever, not just because what Unilever was doing was wrong, but to send a message to all the other multinationals that this is not a good idea.”

Shortly after the Ben & Jerry’s boycott announcement, Ashner acquired an undisclosed stake in Unilever, and began pressuring the board and pushing for legal action in the US. He formed an organization called the Coalition to Hold Unilever Accountable with a number of law firms, lobbying groups and scholars.

Ben & Jerry’s is a wholly-owned........

© The Times of Israel

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