State has no contract with Ben & Jerry’s parent company

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Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration has found the state has no contracts with Ben & Jerry’s parent company that could potentially run afoul of a state law that bars contractors from boycotting Israel.

In a review requested by House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, the Kelly administration found that the state had not contracts with Unilever or any of its subsidiaries.

Unilever is the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, the iconic ice cream maker that announced last week it would no longer sell ice cream in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

The company said it had a longstanding partnership with a licensee who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region.

“This is welcome news indeed,” Hawkins said in a statement.

“Ben & Jerry’s made an outrageous decision to boycott our ally and trading partner Israel.

“We have taken a crucial step to put Unilever and other companies that might consider joining them on notice that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated by the state of Kansas.”

Three years ago, then-Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a bill fixing a constitutional deficiency with a law barring state contractors from boycotting Israel.

A federal judge blocked the law, ruling that it violated the First Amendment rights of a Wichita math teacher.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state when the teacher wasn’t allowed to participate in a state teacher training program because she refused to certify she wasn’t boycotting Israel.

The Legislature went back and rewrote the law so it no longer applied to individuals. It would only apply to business contracts worth more than $100,000.

The new language required companies to certify they were not boycotting goods or services from Israel that constitute an “integral” part of the business they want to do with the state.

The Kansas law defines a boycott as engaging in actions that limit commerce with business in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel.

The decision was criticized in states across the country including Texas where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Ben & Jerry’s decision was “disgraceful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East.”

Several years ago, Abbott signed a bill requiring Texas pension funds to divest from any company boycotting Israel.

The Texas comptroller’s office, meanwhile, says it was looking into whether the state should blacklist Ben & Jerry’s for its decision.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to put Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on a watch list because of the decision to end sales in the territory.

The Times of Israel reported that five states in all – Texas, California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois – are looking at imposing some type of sanction.