BDS advocates claim victory as General Mills divests its Israeli dough operation

The company has been a target of pro-Palestinian activists since it was included in a 2020 United Nations database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements.

View from the southwest of the General Mills processing plant on Martel Road in Martel, Ohio, United States, 28 August 2015.  (photo credit: NYTTEND via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
View from the southwest of the General Mills processing plant on Martel Road in Martel, Ohio, United States, 28 August 2015.
(photo credit: NYTTEND via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

According to a local rabbi, the church General Mills announced Tuesday it would be fully divesting from a business venture in Israel that had operated in an East Jerusalem settlement, in a move pro-Palestinian activists celebrated as the result of their campaign against the food conglomerate.

The Minnesota-based company has operated a Pillsbury frozen-food factory in the Atarot Industrial Zone since 2002, in a joint venture with Israeli investment group Bodan Holdings. In a statement, the company said it would sell its majority stake in the venture back to Bodan as part of a larger international investment strategy.

General Mills’ statement did not mention politics and noted that the company had previously moved to sell off its European dough business, as well, also divesting from countries including Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the company also denied that politics had anything to do with its decision.

“We have made clear the global business strategy that drove this decision,” company spokesperson Kelsey Roemhildt said. “Any claims by others taking credit for this decision are false. We continue to sell our products in Israel and look forward to continuing to serve Israeli consumers with our other brands.”

 BDS ACTIVISTS in action (credit: GALI TIBBON / AFP) BDS ACTIVISTS in action (credit: GALI TIBBON / AFP)

Still, some pro-Palestinian activists rushed to take credit for the move. General Mills has been on their radar since it was included in a 2020 United Nations database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements.

American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-affiliated activist organization that has been pushing the company to end its Israel operations via a campaign called “No Dough For The Occupation,” took credit for the divestment in a statement.

“General Mills’ divestment shows that public pressure works even on the largest of corporations,” Noam Perry, a member of the group’s Economic Activism team, said in the statement. 

Descendants of the Pillsbury family, who no longer own the company, urged a boycott of its products last April in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune because of the factory in Atarot. “We call on General Mills to stop doing business on occupied land,” reads the op-ed, signed by Quinnipac University professor and Green Party activist Charlie Pillsbury and four other members of the Pillsbury family.

The divestment carried echoes of another food producer’s Israel-related move: last year’s decision by ice-cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” In that case, the decision was explicitly political, coming on the heels of Israel’s deadly conflict with Hamas.

And the blowback was swift, with Jewish groups and several state governments lining up to not only boycott Ben & Jerry’s products but also divest from its parent company, the British multinational conglomerate Unilever — in many cases citing anti-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions laws to do so.id host a program for a now-defunct interfaith group in the late 1990s.