TAU conference talks BDS challenges for Israeli businesses today

From Ben and Jerry's to BDS: These are the most politically charged times for Israeli companies

 Panel at the conference in memory of Isachar Fischer, hosted by Tel Aviv University's Batya and Isachar Fischer Center for Corporate Governance (photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
Panel at the conference in memory of Isachar Fischer, hosted by Tel Aviv University's Batya and Isachar Fischer Center for Corporate Governance
(photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)

Tel Aviv University's Batya and Isachar Fischer Center for Corporate Governance held its annual conference in memory of Isachar Fischer last week, focusing on the challenges created by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Israeli businesses.

In an era in which corporate governance and investments increasingly intersect with international politics and the BDS threat faced by Israeli businesses, many companies are facing some unexpected hurdles.

The concern, illustrated by the Ben & Jerry’s case, is that investors and companies would use their commitment to socially responsible investments to boycott Israeli companies.

Professors Jesse Fried (Harvard Law School) and David Webber (Boston University), who attended the conference, discussed the legal response to Ben & Jerry’s decision, the different legal strategies used against Unilever, and lessons for the future.

'Companies and CEOs that boycott Israel face serious material risks to their businesses'

"The fact that many US states actually divested from Unilever over the Israel boycott, that many elected officials and investors pushed back against the boycott, and that multiple lawsuits were brought sent the strongest possible signal to markets," Webber said. "Companies and CEOs that boycott Israel face serious material risks to their businesses and their reputations."

Ben & Jerry's ice creams on sale at a shop in Jerusalem on July 19, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)Ben & Jerry's ice creams on sale at a shop in Jerusalem on July 19, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Fried, in turn, said that the purpose of the BDS movement is to "demonize, isolate, and ultimately destroy the Jewish state. So far, it has largely failed, thanks to the efforts of the pro-Israel community. But this is an ongoing battle and we must remain vigilant."

Darryl J. Alvarado from Robbins, Geller, Rudman & Dowd LLP, in turn, described the lawsuit brought by his law firm on behalf of investors against Unilever for its misleading disclosure in connection with the Ben & Jerrys decision.

The Batya and Isachar Fischer Center for Corporate Governance at Tel Aviv University is Israel’s leading center for corporate governance research.

Endowed by Avi Fischer in memory of his father and directed by Professor Assaf Hamdani, the Center sponsors academic research, conferences and roundtables bringing together academics, practitioners, business leaders, judges and policymakers from Israel and abroad.