Three Republican senators have written a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) urging an investigation into whether Unilever, through its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s, violated SEC rules and used deceptive practices with shareholders after the ice cream maker initiated an Israel boycott.
The December letter, written by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Kennedy (R-LA) and Tim Scott (R-SC), published by FOX Business on Wednesday, called for statements made by Unilever in July to be examined.
The senators referred to the fact that when on July 19, Ben & Jerry’s announced they were going to stop selling ice cream in Judea and Samaria – which they referred to as the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” – Unilever supported the ice cream maker’s decision, saying, “We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel.”
"There is strong reason to believe that these July 19 statements were knowingly and recklessly false," said the lawmakers, who are members of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. They pointed to the Israeli law that makes it illegal to enact targeted boycotts based on location.
The letter continued: “Effectively, that means Ben & Jerry’s can stay and sell in all of Israel, including the OPT referenced in the firm’s July 19 statement, or it can leave Israel entirely. But it cannot remain in the country in the way it publicly said it would: partially-in, partially-out."
The lawmakers charged that Ben & Jerry’s said that their boycott would only apply to Judea and Samaria knowing full well that it would violate Israeli law. They noted that in 2013, the ice cream maker declined to support a similar boycott measure that was being pushed by the group Vermonters for Justice in Palestine.
The letter also asserted that after the July statement by Unilever, Anuradha Mittal, the head of Ben & Jerry’s board of directors, said that Unilever had made the statement without the board’s support.
“It is a reasonable assumption that these statements were orchestrated by Unilever and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, to deceive shareholders and avoid violating state anti-BDS laws that would trigger mandatory divestment of the companies by state public pension funds," the letter said.
The senators urged an investigation into the statements that Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s made at the time the move was announced, explaining that doing so was essential to "defend the integrity of U.S. markets."
The letter also accused Unilever and subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s of violating SEC Rule 10b-5(b) that makes it illegal to "to make any untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary, in the light of circumstances under which they were made."