Among this nation’s cities, the power of the purse to shape policy is perhaps the strongest in New York City, which has a pension fund worth more than $273 billion that it invests in industries that reflect the values of the city government. Earlier this year, Comptroller Scott Stringer invested $8 billion in projects related to the Green New Deal, which failed in Congress but was promoted by its progressive members. In line with its environmental vision, the city also divested $4 billion from fossil fuel companies.
Considering the speed of the decision, it was surprising that Stringer has been silent on Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. As other municipalities and states have withdrawn from the company for its boycott of Israel, local elected officials wrote to Stringer, requesting that the city follow in divesting from the boycotters.
“As Comptroller, you have an obligation to review the actions of Ben & Jerry’s and that of Unilever to determine if they are in violation of New York City law,” Bronx Councilman Eric Dinowitz wrote in June. “City Administrative Code Section 6-114, which prohibits city contractors...from participating in international boycotts.”
To date, the states of New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Texas announced their intentions to divest their state pensions from Unilever. In Texas, a Palestinian-American contractor, Russ Hassouna, is suing the state and the city of Houston, refusing to agree to its anti-BDS clause. His attorneys, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that boycotting Israel is a matter of free speech.
This past Sunday, the New York Post caught up on Dinowitz’s letter, noting that Stringer never replied to it. Through a spokesperson, Stringer only confirmed that he opposes the BDS movement, without elaborating further. But later that day, he tweeted in anger at the story, arguing that it had “some of the most offensive, juvenile, and misleading attacks I’ve ever come across in 30 years of public service. It’s beyond disgusting @HikindDov and @EricDinowitzNYC would resort to cheap name-calling against a fellow Jew to make an uninformed point.”
Stringer’s attack on Dinowitz led Queens Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal to defend a fellow lawmaker. “Since Mr. Stringer is trying to defame a colleague, I will just say that I have also reached out to his office several times and never received any response,” he wrote. “Do I need to send screenshots of my call log? Since I have your attention, do you care to respond now as to why you won’t divest from a BDS-supporting company?”
Yishai Maynard, the chair of the board at the JFK Democratic Club in Kew Gardens Hills, commended his Assemblyman for speaking up. “Daniel clearly takes this very seriously. He holds people’s feet to the fire even after a particular incident is no longer making headlines.”
Former Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind also lashed out at Stringer, noting that he could easily have followed in the example of the state’s top fiscal officer. “Comptroller DiNapoli did all the homework for Stringer to divest from Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever. DiNapoli did the right thing. What is the City Comptroller missing?” he said. “This is a person who doesn’t have the guts to do the right thing. What point doesn’t Stringer get?”
When Stringer previously served as the Manhattan Borough President and in his early years as the Comptroller, his relations with Jewish community leaders in Queens were very positive. He appeared often at public events sponsored by Chazaq, the Queens Jewish Community Council, and at a 2017 business networking gala co-sponsored by this publication.
His reputation in the community took a hit in the summer of 2019 when he endorsed leftist Tiffany Cabán in her run for Queens District Attorney in a tight race against Melinda Katz.
If his support for Cabán was intended to make inroads among progressive voters for his mayoral run earlier this year, it failed, as he was outflanked by Maya Wiley; then his campaign crashed amid accusations of two women who alleged improper behavior by Stringer from nearly three decades earlier.
“He’s only in office for nine more weeks,” Dinowitz told The Post. “We hope Comptroller Stringer makes a decision that aligns with our laws and values.”
Stringer will be succeeded at the start of the new year by Brad Lander, who has a consistent record of supporting progressive causes, and having the support of anti-Israel activists such as Linda Sarsour and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others. “The next comptroller is clear where he stands,” Rosenthal said, “in contrast to Stringer.”
By Sergey Kadinsky