At the risk of upsetting some Ron DeSantis fans, I’m going to criticize Ron DeSantis. On Tuesday, the state of Florida placed Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Unilever, its parent company, on the List of Scrutinized Companies. The decision came in response to the ice cream company’s decision to stop selling its products in certain Israeli-occupied areas.
The move was made at the behest of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who declared that the state is “sending a message to corporate America that we will defend our strong relationship with the Jewish State.”
The governor continued, stating that he would not “stand idly by as woke corporate ideologues seek to boycott and divest from” Israel.
DeSantis told the State Board of Administration (SBA) to place Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on the list only days after the former announced that it would halt sales in the region. Companies on the list are not allowed to receive government contracts.
On Monday, the SBA sent a letter to DeSantis informing him that it conducted an “engagement call” with Unilever Investor Relations last week and learned that it had “no current plan to prevent Ben & Jerry’s from terminating business activities in Israeli-controlled territories.”
The Hill reported:
Ben & Jerry’s now has 90 days to “cease its boycott” of Israel, otherwise Unilever will be subject to an “investment prohibition” and the state will not contract with the company or its subsidiaries.
DeSantis’ office issued a statement further explaining its decision:
Given the guidance from Unilever’s investor relations team and the vociferous statements of Ben and Jerry themselves supporting their eponymous company’s decision to engage in the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement, it appears likely that these punitive measures will go into effect.
As someone who supports Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, I share DeSantis’ opposition to the BDS movement. It is a dishonest initiative designed to unfairly cast Israel as a tyrannical oppressor and the Palestinians as innocent victims.
However, using the state to punish a company for making a decision as to where and with whom it will do business is a level of statism that should make any limited government proponent uncomfortable. Ben & Jerry’s is known as a woke corporation that supports a variety of far-left causes. But this does not give the government the right to enact punitive measures against the company in an effort to coerce it into doing business in areas that they do not wish to do business in.
As a free-market advocate, it is difficult for me to justify any government trying to dictate to a company how it is supposed to operate. It is why I oppose the Biden Administration’s attempt to pressure Facebook to ramp up its censorship efforts against the sharing of opinions about COVID-19 that are not Democrat-approved.
The state should not have the authority to tell a company how it should operate. It should not be able to infringe on the right of a business to associate with whomever they choose.
Whenever we consider whether the government should enact policies that compel certain behavior, we must first imagine our political opposition being given the same power – because eventually, they will be in charge. This type of statism could lead to an ugly place, especially if hard leftist politicians are able to expand on it in a way that promotes their particular brand of authoritarianism. Indeed, it’s not difficult to think that they could take this precedent and run with it.
Singling out businesses for punishment based on politics is the exact behavior we have been warning against. If we are to preserve the idea of a free market, we must resist any attempt to give the state undue influence regardless of the party who is in power. Otherwise, the slippery slope might result in consequences we would rather not think about.