ZOA Calls Off Protest After Coke Agrees
To Public Questioning And Negotiation
New York The efforts of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) have triggered important new developments in the case of the Bigio family against the Coca-Cola Company. The Bigios — a Jewish family that lived in Egypt and owned land and factories there since the early 1900’s — had their property forcibly stolen from them by the Egyptian government in 1962, in a campaign of anti-Semitism that caused almost one million Jews in Arab/Islamic countries to lose their homes, property and livelihoods. Since 1994, Coca-Cola has been using and occupying the Bigios’ property, knowing full well of the immoral and anti-Semitic manner in which the property had been taken from them over 30 years before. The Bigios repeatedly appealed to Coke to compensate them for the company’s use of their property. When the company refused, and when the Bigios’ repeated efforts to obtain justice in Egypt proved futile, the family sued Coca-Cola in a New York federal court. The lawsuit has been pending for 10 years, the merits of the Bigios’ claims still not having been reached because of Coca-Cola’s legal maneuverings.
Learning of the Bigios’ plight, the ZOA took action. Susan Tuchman, the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief on behalf of the Bigio family in its lawsuit against Coca-Cola. The ZOA also publicly called for a boycott of Coca-Cola products until Coca-Cola reached a fair settlement with the Bigios. And, the ZOA planned a public demonstration at the annual meeting of Coke shareholders, which was scheduled for Wednesday, April 18, 2007, in Wilmington, Delaware. A sizeable number of protestors planned to demonstrate at the meeting to protest the company’s actions toward the Bigios.
The day before the shareholders’ meeting, two senior Coca-Cola officials contacted ZOA National President Morton A. Klein, to see what could be done to call off the protest. Coca-Cola agreed to permit Leonard Getz, a Coca-Cola shareholder and the ZOA’s national vice president, to ask a question about Coca-Cola’s treatment of the Bigios at the meeting. Mr. Getz had been so concerned about Coca-Cola’s treatment of the Bigios that in December 2006, he submitted a shareholder proposal to Coke that he requested be included in the Company’s proxy materials for the annual meeting. The proposal sought for Coca-Cola to “compensate the Bigio family fully and fairly for their loss, to correct the terrible injustice that this family has suffered.” Although noting that the shareholder proposal satisfied all procedural requirements, Coca-Cola had nevertheless decided to exclude the proposal from its proxy materials, thus keeping the company’s conduct toward the Bigios from being brought to shareholders’ attention at the annual meeting. With the threat of a ZOA demonstration outside the shareholders’ meeting, Coca-Cola promised that the ZOA’s Getz would be permitted to ask a question about the Bigios’ case at the meeting.
In addition, Coca-Cola agreed that within 48 hours, Coca-Cola senior officials would contact the Bigios’ lead attorney — renowned Washington, D.C. litigator Nathan Lewin — to discuss the possibility of a fair and reasonable settlement with the Bigios. Until this agreement was reached on Tuesday, Coca-Cola had made no such overtures and has never offered the Bigios anything.
Coca-Cola fulfilled both commitments. With Morton Klein at his side, Leonard Getz raised the plight of the Bigios at the shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday, April 18th at the Wilmington’s Hotel du Pont. Mr. Getz asked the following question at the meeting, which was led by Coca-Cola’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, E. Neville Isdell:
Mr. Isdell, Coca Cola proudly labels itself as a concerned citizen of the world, and is guided by its own Code of Conduct, which emphasizes that the company must act in every instance with honesty, integrity, accountability and respect and never to engage in behavior that harms its reputation. “If you wouldn’t want to read about it in the newspaper — don’t do it” — such says your Code of Conduct. Yet for fourteen years, Coke has taken a path contrary to its own principles by knowingly occupying and financially benefiting from expropriated property — that is, stolen property, taken from the Egyptian Jewish family of Raphael Bigio during an Egyptian Arab anti-Semitic campaign that took place in Egypt over 40 years ago, just about the time you started with Coca-Cola. Coke did business with the Bigio family since the 1930’s. Coke knew and knows that the property belonged to the Bigios.
So why has Coke helped legitimize this theft? And why has Coke ignored the Bigios’ rightful claim to be fairly compensated by Coca Cola for using the Bigio family’s factory and land, even after a federal district court ruled that this case can be heard in a U.S. court? As a shareholder, as a fellow concerned citizen of the world, I would like to know how Coke plans to fairly compensate Raphael Bigio for the loss of his family’s property on which Coca Cola is currently trespassing. Thank you.
Coca-Cola’s Neville Isdell responded that since the company does not own the property that belonged to the Bigios (which had not been the ZOA’s claim; Coke has been leasing the property from a government-owned entity, though knowing that the property had been stolen from the Bigios by the Egyptian government), this “really has to be a dispute between the property owner and the claimant” (i.e., the Bigio family). According to Mr. Isdell, “if there was anything more that we thought we would be able to do, we certainly would do it.”
The day after the meeting, Coca-Cola officials held discussions as promised with the Bigios’ attorney, Nathan Lewin. Additional discussions are expected.
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein applauded these recent developments, and expressed his hope for a just settlement of the Bigios’ claims, without further delay, so that this tragic case could finally be brought to a close. “We were heartened by Coca-Cola’s decision to permit Len Getz to bring the Bigios’ plight to the attention of shareholders at the annual meeting. And we are pleased that we were able to get Coca-Cola officials to finally communicate with the Bigios’ attorney about the family’s dispute with Coke. We’ve never claimed that Coca-Cola perpetrated the campaign of anti-Semitism that the Bigios were subjected to in Egypt, and that close to one million other Jews suffered in the Arab and Islamic countries in which they lived. We’ve also never claimed that Coca-Cola owns the property that belonged to the Bigios. But there’s no doubt that Coke has been participating in and benefiting from Egypt’s anti-Semitism campaign, by occupying and using property that the company knows full well was stolen from the Bigios by the Egyptian government for one reason only: the Bigios were Jews. Coca-Cola can easily right this shameful wrong, by reaching a fair settlement with the Bigio family as soon as possible.
“We were pleased that a large number of Coke board members attended the shareholders’ meeting — including Sam Nunn, the former U.S. Senator from Georgia, and Peter Ueberroth, the former Commissioner of Baseball — who have now learned about the Bigios’ longstanding problems with Coca-Cola. We hope that they will take action to resolve this tragic situation, quickly and fairly.”