ZOA: “Don’t Buy Coca-Cola”
New York — The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) condemns the Coca-Cola Company (“Coca-Cola” or the “Company”) for occupying and using certain property in Egypt, all the while knowing that the property was stolen by the Egyptian government from its Jewish owners, the Bigio family. This participation in anti-Semitic and immoral conduct is made even more egregious by how boldly and self-righteously Coca-Cola describes itself. The Company calls itself “more than a beverage company. We are a corporate citizen of the world.” Coca-Cola promises to be “an outstanding corporate citizen in every community we serve.” Guided by a “Code of Conduct,” the Company is required to “act in every instance with honesty, integrity, accountability and respect.” In the Code, Coca-Cola cautions its employees to “never engage in behavior that harms the reputation of the Company. If you wouldn’t want to tell your parents or your children about your action — or wouldn’t want to read about it in a newspaper — don’t do it.”
Despite its self-image and promise to be “an outstanding corporate citizen in every community we serve,” Coca-Cola has been unfairly and immorally benefiting from a campaign of anti-Semitism against the Bigios. For approximately 60 years beginning in the early 1900’s, the Bigios owned land and factories near Cairo, Egypt. Coca-Cola leased a factory building from the Bigios for over 25 years, and the Bigios’ factories provided bottle caps and other products to the Company.
In 1962, the Egyptian government forcibly stole the Bigios’ property from them, without any compensation whatsoever, for one reason only: they were Jews. The Egyptian government’s actions were part of a campaign of anti-Semitic discrimination and persecution that caused almost a million Jews in Arab/Islamic countries, like the Bigios, to lose their homes, properties, businesses and livelihoods.
In 1980, the Egyptian government ordered that the property be returned to the Bigios. But the occupier, a government-owned and operated entity, never returned the property.
In approximately 1993, the Egyptian government decided to privatize the entity that was occupying and using the Bigios’ property. When the Bigios learned that Coca-Cola intended to bid for the entity, they contacted Coca-Cola to remind the Company of the family’s right to the property. But top Coca-Cola officials cavalierly brushed aside and ignored the Bigios’ legitimate pleas to be justly compensated for the loss of their property, and went ahead with the bid. Through subsidiaries, Coca-Cola purchased 42 percent of the entity occupying the Bigios’ property, knowing full well of the immoral and anti-Semitic manner in which the property had been stolen from the Bigios by the Egyptian government. The Company then formed a joint venture known as the “Coca-Cola Bottling Companies of Egypt” that has been occupying, using and benefiting from the Bigios’ stolen property since 1994.
The Bigios repeatedly requested that Coca-Cola compensate them for their loss, but Coca-Cola never offered them a penny. The family was thus left with no choice but to file a lawsuit to obtain justice. They sued in Egypt 12 times. All of their lawsuits were dismissed and not permitted to go forward, some in a matter of weeks. In 1997, the Bigios filed suit against Coca-Cola in a federal district court in New York. In the almost 10 years since the lawsuit was brought, Coca-Cola’s lawyers have used every legal maneuver to avoid reaching the merits of the Bigios’ case because the Company has no legal or moral defense for its conduct. In its first effort to have the case dismissed on technical grounds, Coca-Cola succeeded in persuading the district court. But represented by renowned Washington, D.C. litigator Nathan Lewin (who is also a member of the Advisory Board for the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice), the Bigios satisfied the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that they were entitled to proceed with their claim in an American federal court.
One of Coca-Cola’s recent maneuvers was to ask the federal district court to dismiss the Bigios’ case — even though the court had the authority to hear it — on the ground it was more appropriate for a court in Egypt to decide the Bigios’ claims. It was preposterous that Coca-Cola would even assert this argument, given that in furtherance of a government campaign of anti-Semitism, it was Egypt that had stolen the Bigios’ property in the first place, and anti-Semitism is still rampant in that country, making a fair trial in Egypt highly unlikely. When, incredibly, the federal district court agreed with Coca-Cola and dismissed the Bigios’ case, the family appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Bigios’ attorneys, Nathan Lewin and his daughter and partner, Alyza D. Lewin, asked the ZOA to submit an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to the Court of Appeals in support of the Bigios’ claim that an American court is the appropriate forum to fairly and justly decide whether Coca-Cola, an American company, should be held accountable for its conduct.
The ZOA’s brief showed that the Bigios would not get a fair trial in Egypt, because hatred of Jews is deeply ingrained in Egyptian society, and this hatred is still fostered today, even by the government-sponsored media. Before submitting the brief, the ZOA sought and obtained Coca-Cola’s consent to file it. But after the brief was filed, the Company argued that the Court of Appeals should not consider it. Fortunately, the Court of Appeals decided in favor of the Bigios, reversing the federal district court’s decision and sending the case back to the district court for further proceedings. Coca-Cola has continued to press its illogical claim that the case should be decided in Egypt, first unsuccessfully petitioning the Court of Appeals to rehear the Company’s motion to dismiss, and now petitioning the United States Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals’ decision.
When Leonard Getz, National Vice President of the ZOA and also a Coca-Cola shareholder, learned about the Bigios’ plight, he was so shocked by Coca-Cola’s treatment of the Bigios — which not only violated basic notions of justice and fair play, but also the Company’s own Code of Conduct — that he took action. In December 2006, Mr. Getz submitted a shareholder proposal to Coca-Cola, to be included in the Company’s proxy materials for the 2007 annual shareholders’ meeting. Mr. Getz’s proposal requested on behalf of shareholders that Coca-Cola “act with the honesty, integrity, accountability and respect that must guide the Company, and do what is right and fair, or otherwise risk creating the reputation that the Company is benefiting from a campaign of anti-Semitism and is a party to it.” The proposal further stated that “Coca-Cola should compensate the Bigio family fully and fairly for their loss, to correct the terrible injustice that this family has suffered.”
The shareholder proposal satisfied all of the procedural requirements in order to be included in Coca-Cola’s proxy materials. But Coca-Cola notified Mr. Getz of its intention to exclude the proposal from its proxy materials for non-procedural reasons. This would keep Coca-Cola’s conduct toward the Bigios from being brought to the attention of shareholders, the public and the media. And it would prevent the Company’s shareholders from moving to rectify the Company’s actions.
Mr. Getz is angered by and ashamed of Coca-Cola’s actions: “Coca-Cola has a unique opportunity to make whole a victim of Arab anti-Semitism, but instead has chosen to squander this opportunity and dismiss their former business associates’ legitimate and civil rights. As an American, a Jew and a shareholder of Coca-Cola, I’m appalled at Coca-Cola’s actions. They violate our fundamental understanding of what’s right and wrong, let alone the Code of Conduct that is supposed to guide the Company’s behavior. Coca-Cola’s treatment of the Bigio family is an affront to all Jews, and to all decent, law-abiding and fair-minded people who hate prejudice, injustice and corruption.”
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein echoed Mr. Getz’s deep concern, saying, “The Bigios are just one example of the almost one million Jews who lived in Arab countries, many of them for centuries. They worked hard and built families and communities. Jews in Arab countries were never treated as full and equal citizens, but the persecution and discrimination they endured intensified with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Almost all were forced to leave their homes, communities and livelihoods behind, and re-establish their lives elsewhere, not to mention the outright violence and murder that the Jews suffered immediately after the State of Israel was created. Proof of their treatment lays in the population numbers: In 1948, there were approximately 75,000 Jews living in Egypt. Today, there are only 100 Jews left. The Arab and Islamic countries that persecuted their Jewish citizens have never had to answer for their conduct. The approximately 900,000 Jews who were uprooted from their homes were made instant refugees, yet they have never been compensated. It is truly shameful that an American company like Coca-Cola, regarding itself as a great corporate citizen, has been participating in and reaping the benefits from this campaign of anti-Semitism. Americans of every background should be appalled by Coca-Cola’s actions. Americans are so opposed to discrimination against the Jewish State of Israel that the U.S. Congress has instituted anti-boycott laws prohibiting U.S. companies’ participation in and facilitation of anti-Israel boycotts. U.S. companies should also not participate in or facilitate anti-Semitic actions.
“We demand that Coca-Cola honor its own Code of Conduct and American standards of right and wrong, and stop being an accessory to anti-Semitism. Coca-Cola has told its employees that it shouldn’t engage in behavior that they wouldn’t want to tell their parents and children about, and that they wouldn’t want to read about in the newspaper. Would Coca-Cola officials be proud to tell their parents and children about how they have treated the Bigios? Would these officials be proud to read about their conduct in the newspaper? When asked to name an American company that participates in and benefits from anti-Semitism, our answer should be, ‘Coke is it.'”
Until the Bigios’ case is justly and fairly resolved, we urge all Americans and all others of good will to refrain from purchasing any of Coca-Cola’s products. We also urge you to contact Coca-Cola and let the Company know exactly how you feel — that you will not be buying Coca-Cola products until the Company rights the wrong that’s been perpetrated against the Bigio family.
There are many Cola-Cola products, including: A&W, Aqua, Bacardi Mixers, Canada Dry, Crush, Dasani, Dannon, Dr. Pepper, Fanta, Fresca, Fruitopia, Hi-C, Horizon, Jolly Juice, Joy, Mickey & Friends, Mickey Mouse, Minute Maid, Nescafe, Nestea, Nature’s Own, Schweppes, Seagrams, Sprite, TaB, and Winnie the Pooh.
You can find a complete listing of Coca-Cola’s products at:
Let Coca-Cola know that you don’t support American companies that participate in and benefit from anti-Semitism. Write to:
E. Neville Isdell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
The Coca-Cola Company
P.O. Box 1734
Atlanta, GA 30301
Call Coca-Cola at:
1-800-GET COKE (438-2653)
Refael Bigio, whose grandfather originally owned the property in Egypt, echoed the call to boycott Coca-Cola products and expressed his appreciation for the help he has received. Mr. Bigio said, “My family and I are deeply grateful to Nathan and Alyza Lewin, and to Susan Tuchman, Morton Klein and Leonard Getz of the ZOA for their assistance in working to redress the injustice that Coca-Cola has perpetrated on my family. As Coca-Cola well knows, my family owns these valuable assets in Egypt, and they were stolen from us. You can’t go and buy stolen assets, and then reap the benefits. It is only right that my family be compensated because of Coca-Cola’s using and benefiting from my family’s property in Egypt. I urge my fellow Jews and all decent and fair-minded people to stop buying Coca-Cola products until my family is fairly compensated for our loss. Please write and call Coca-Cola and let the Company know that you object to what it is doing as immoral and indecent. Tell Coca-Cola that you won’t buy its products until it does the right thing and rectifies the wrong to my family. This case and your activism will send a message that good people won’t stand idly by when governments and companies act with impunity against innocent people.”