By Jamie Anfenson-Comeau
Following an announcement by Ben & Jerry’s that it would no longer sell product in the West Bank, Maryland Jewish organizations are asking the state to review its contracts in light of a 2017 executive order requiring contractors to affirm they are not taking part in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activities against Israel.
“We’re glad that there will be a state review of any and all state contracts to determine if Ben & Jerry’s has any existing contracts with the state of Maryland,” said Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
Ben & Jerry’s issued a statement on July 19 that, beginning in 2023, it will end its contract with its current licensee in Israel to sell Ben & Jerry’s products in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” when its current license agreement expires. The statement said the company will remain in Israel through a “different arrangement.”
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the BJC and JCRC of Greater Washington sent a letter expressing their concerns to Gov. Larry Hogan.
The letter requests that the state do a review of contracts with Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever.
“We believe that this represents a BDS action, and if either company holds contracts with the State of Maryland, they are in violation of your Executive Order. We ask for a prompt and thorough review to take place, and we look forward to hearing the outcome,” stated the letter, signed by Libit and Halber.
The executive order, signed by Hogan in October 2017, requires companies contracting with the executive branch of the state government to provide an affidavit certifying that it has not taken part in any boycott of Israel, defined as “the termination of or refusal to transact business activities, or other actions intended to limit commercial relations, with a person or entity because of its Israeli national origin, or residence or incorporation in Israel and its territories.”
According to the executive order, any false certification will constitute grounds for the bid to be rejected, or if a contract has already been awarded, for the contract to be terminated.
The executive order, however, applies only to those business contracts dealing directly with agencies controlled by the governor’s office.
A search of the Maryland Department of Budget and Management website turned up no results relating to state contracts with Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever.
Libit also shared a letter from Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith, speaking on behalf of the Hogan administration, to Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan, saying that the state is “committed to diversity and inclusion” and opposes all forms of discrimination “including boycotts of people or entities because of their Israeli national origin, or residence or incorporation in Israel and its territories.”
“Accordingly, we will review state contracts to determine whether Ben & Jerry’s has existing contracts with the State of Maryland and the State will respond accordingly,” Wobensmith stated in the letter.
“We appreciate how much they value Maryland’s relationship with Israel,” Libit said. “It may take a bit of time and effort to determine if the state has any relevant contracts, and so we appreciate the governor’s efforts looking into this,” Libit said.
Maryland would not be the first state to take action against Ben & Jerry’s for their recent announcement. Thirty-three states have anti-BDS laws or executive orders, according to an online database.
Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar (R) released a statement that he has directed his office to determine if Ben & Jerry’s announcement would trigger action under a 2017 law that requires the state pension funds to divest from any company boycotting Israel, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week called on the Florida State Board of Administration to initiate the process of putting Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s on the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List, which would require that the state not invest in the company, according to CNN.
Ben & Jerry’s spokesman Sean Greenwood said the company declined to comment further and referred all inquiries to the original July 19 Ben & Jerry’s statement on their website, as well as Frequently Asked Questions regarding the statement.
According to the FAQ, Ben & Jerry’s does not consider this action part of the BDS movement, as the decision only applies to the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” and not to Israel itself.
Halber said that what is needed is more investment in the West Bank, not divestment.
“If you want people to believe in a two-state solution, you have to build them up, provide them with economic opportunities. It may make Ben and Jerry feel good but they have done nothing to contribute to peace; in fact, they have done just the opposite,” Halber said.