Sen. Rick Scott calls on Department of Commerce to launch probe into Ben & Jerry’s

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Sen. Rick Scott calls on Department of Commerce to launch probe into Ben & Jerry's

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is calling on the Department of Commerce to launch an investigation into Ben & Jerry’s for banning sales in parts of Israel, arguing that the ice cream conglomerate’s boycott of the West Bank may violate the Export Administration Act. 

The company announced its freeze on selling ice cream in the region in July, citing its support of Palestine — a move that sparked strong backlash from public officials.

In a letter sent to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Tuesday, Scott accused Ben & Jerry’s of antisemitism, asserting he believes a probe is necessary to see if the ban is in violation of the law. 

“I am writing to you in light of the decision by Ben & Jerry’s, an American company which is wholly owned by Unilever, to participate in a foreign boycott, banning sales of its ice cream in portions of Israel,” het wrote. “I am extremely concerned with Ben & Jerry’s anti-Semitic actions, and as the Office of Antiboycott Compliance is under your jurisdiction, I am calling on the Department of Commerce to initiate an investigation into whether or not Ben & Jerry’s recent decision violates the Export Administration Act of 1969.” 

A Ben & Jerry's ice-cream delivery truck is seen at their factory in Be'er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021.
A Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream delivery truck is seen at their factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel on July 20, 2021.
REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Under the Export Administration Act of 1969, the president is directed to “prohibit compliance with or support of any foreign boycott against a country which is friendly to the United States, with specified exceptions.”

Scott noted that ending sales in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem requires Ben & Jerry’s to cease its licensing agreement — which expires in 2022 —  with a local franchisee that is stationed in the Jewish state and has distributed the product in the region for decades. 

“Ben & Jerry’s operates in Israel through a licensee, an Israeli company that has distributed ice cream throughout the country since 1987 and operates one of its few foreign manufacturing facilities. In addition to the manufacturing facility, the licensee allows Ben & Jerry’s to operate two scoop shops and distribute ice cream to be sold in stores throughout the country, including in Judea and Samaria,” he continued. 

The Florida Republican took aim at the company’s statement which said remaining in the area is “‘inconsistent with [their] values; and because of ‘concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners,’” and noted that Ben & Jerry’s — which has clashed with its parent company, Unilever, over the brand’s presence in the region – its board had been calling for a “withdraw ice cream sales from the region for years.”

Further, Ben & Jerry’s independent board of directors passed a resolution to end sales of Ben & Jerry’s products in Israeli settlements in July 2020. This appears to be the first such decision by Ben & Jerry’s to boycott sales to a  foreign country, meaning the Jewish State is the company’s first target,” he continued.  

“Given the pressure that Ben & Jerry’s faced from outside organizations, particularly those involved in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, including Vermonters  for Palestinian Justiceand SumOfUs, there is reason to believe that Ben & Jerry’s intent is to comply with an unsanctioned foreign boycott.”

The Florida Republican called for the company to be held “ fully accountable” if the boycott is found unlawful.

“I am urging you to launch an investigation to determine if Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever has violated the Export Administration Act. Such boycotts of foreign countries are in violation of statute and horribly anti-Semitic,” he concluded. 

“They have no place in the United  States, and in conjunction with the Office of Antiboycott Compliance and the Department of Justice, I ask that you determine if these entities are violating statute, and if so, to hold them fully accountable.” 

Scott’s criticisms of Ben & Jerry’s are consistent for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) call for disciplinary action, with the governor having recently taken action to place Ben & Jerry’s on its State Board of Administration watch list, which provides a company 90 days to “cease the boycott of Israel in order to avoid qualifying for investment prohibition” under state law, NBC news reports. 

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