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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO Unilever Headquarters in Rotterdam (Netherlands), August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

By Ross Kerber

(Reuters) – A New Jersey state treasury official said on Wednesday it is set to divest $182 million in Unilever (NYSE:) Plc stock and bonds held by its pension funds over the restriction of sales by the consumer giant’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

It is the latest action by a U.S. state challenging Unilever over Ben & Jerry’s move in July to end a license for its ice cream to be sold in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Ben & Jerry’s said selling its products there was “inconsistent with its values.”

New Jersey’s Division of Investment said Tuesday that they had reached a preliminary conclusion that Unilever’s continued investment would not be in compliance with a state law which prohibits it investing in Israel-based companies. It allowed the company to ask for a revision of the order within 90 days.

Unilever’s representative stated that it did not comment on the state decision. However, he cited an August letter sent to the state by CEO Alan Jope in which he said Unilever had “a strong commitment to Israel”, where nearly 2000 people are employed.

Jope noted Ben & Jerry’s has an independent board overseeing its social mission, and said Unilever does not support the “Boycott Divestment Sanctions” movement that seeks to isolate Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians. The decision to stop selling ice cream was made by Ben & Jerry’s and its board, Jope said.

A Ben & Jerry’s spokesman did not respond to messages.

Many countries view Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as illegal. Israel disagrees.[nL2N2OL125]

Ben & Jerry’s, based in South Burlington, Vermont, is known for its commitment to social justice that has recently included strongly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights and electoral campaign finance reform.

Unilever bought it in 2000. The deal allows the state to have more autonomy than its other subsidiaries. It also gives power to an unaffiliated board which can decide on social mission and brand integrity as well as policies.

Kimberly Yee, Arizona’s Treasurer, stated earlier in the month that $143 million would be sold by Unilever to fund similar purposes.

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