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Ben and Jerry’s Gave $170,000 in Grants to Board Trustee’s Anti-Israel Foundation

Move could violate tax laws

Ben and Jerry's board chairwoman Anuradha Mittal / oaklandinstitute.org
• August 4, 2021 1:30 pm

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The Ben & Jerry's Foundation steered over $170,000 in grants to an anti-Israel nonprofit group run by one of its board directors, a potential violation of self-dealing laws, according to an ethics watchdog organization.

Anuradha Mittal is a trustee at the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, which has awarded $170,500 in grants to the Oakland Institute, an advocacy group that Mittal founded and where she serves as the paid executive director. The Oakland Institute has published articles defending Hezbollah and supporting U.S. funding to Hamas, the Washington Free Beacon reported in July.

Mittal also serves as chairwoman of the Ben & Jerry's independent corporate board and was a driving force behind the ice cream company's decision to boycott Israel.

The Ben & Jerry's Foundation grants to the Oakland Institute could run afoul of self-dealing laws, which prohibit private foundations from using funds to benefit their trustees, according to the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog group. Ben & Jerry's and its parent company Unilever have been under increased scrutiny since the ice cream company's July decision to boycott Israel. Several states have moved to divest from Unilever following the backlash.

"Rules governing self-dealing are in place to keep even the most honest on the straight and narrow," said Tom Anderson, director of the National Legal and Policy Center's Government Integrity Project. "Anuradha Mittal and Ben and Jerry's have an obligation to adhere to these rules and should immediately be subject to an administrative review of all of their policies and procedures by Unilever. Depending on the outcome an audit may need to be performed to rein in what appears to be an out-of-control [Board of Directors]."

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the "transfer to, or use by or for the benefit of, a disqualified person of the income or assets of a private foundation is an act of self-dealing" and a violation of federal tax law. A disqualified person is defined as "any person who was in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the applicable tax-exempt organization" during the five years prior to the transaction.

The Oakland Institute received $46,500 from the Ben & Jerry's Foundation in 2016, $79,000 in 2017, $25,000 in 2018, and $20,000 in 2019, according to public tax records. The grants were first reported last week by the New York Post, which noted that Oakland Institute used a portion of the 2017 funding to partner with the BADIL Resource Center.

The BADIL Resource Center has advocated for boycotts against Israel. It lost its funding from the European Union last year after it refused to forgo working with terrorists, according to the Post.

Mittal, who has a long history of left-wing and anti-Israel activism, published columns at the Oakland Institute in support of Hamas and Hezbollah, groups that seek the destruction on the Jewish state.

One article she published, written by Green Party Senate candidate Todd Chretien during the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, made the case that progressives should support Hezbollah.

"You do not have to agree with all of Hezbollah's ideas to support their resistance to Israel," wrote Chretien. "Hezbollah has emerged as the hero to millions of Arabs and Muslims. Hezbollah's fight will encourage the resistance in Iraq and it will give a boost to opposition forces in Egypt, Jordan and other American client states."

Mittal also criticized the United States for cutting off aid to Gaza after Hamas was elected in 2004, arguing that the terrorist group "assured the international community that all aid revenues will be used on salaries, daily lives, and infrastructure."

The Ben & Jerry's Foundation and the Oakland Institute did not respond to a request for comment. Unilever did not respond to a request for comment.