ZOA Protests Outside Coca-Cola’s Annual Shareholders’ Meeting In Wilmington, Delaware
April 22, 2008


Coke Profiting From Anti-Semitism




The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) held a protest outside the Coca- Cola Company’s annual shareholders’ meeting last week in Wilmington, Delaware, calling on the multi-billion dollar company to compensate the Bigio family, Egyptian Jewish refugees whose land and factories were expropriated by the Egyptian government during an anti-Semitic campaign in the 1960s.  Coca-Cola has been occupying and profiting from the Bigios stolen property for many years.


“Coca-Cola continues to violate its own Code of Business Conduct,” said Leonard Getz, a national vice president of ZOA and a Coca-Cola shareholder. “First the company refuses to acknowledge that it is profiting from stolen property, and now it reneges on its promise to engage in good faith settlement discussions with the Bigios.  What will it take for Coke to do the right thing?” 


Last year Mr. Getz submitted a shareholder proposal for consideration at Coca-Cola’s annual shareholders’ meeting, proposing that Coca-Cola be required to fairly compensate the Bigios for their loss. Coke excluded the proposal from its shareholders’ consideration, but at the late minute, allowed Mr. Getz to address the shareholders, and agreed to negotiate with the Bigios. But this year Mr. Getz was outside the shareholders’ annual meeting, along with several dozen other protesters, displaying signs that read, Who’s Benefiting from Anti-Semitism? Coke is it!,”  “Coke Trespasses on Stolen Jewish Property,” and Christians and Jews United for Justice Ask ‘The Real Thing’ To Do The Right Thing.”  


 The ZOA called off a demonstration last year after Coca-Cola promised to discuss settlement terms with the Bigio family. But after several meetings held during the past year, it is now abundantly clear that Coca-Cola has no intention of offering the Bigios a fair settlement.  


In the 1960s the Egyptian regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser expropriated the Bigio family’s land and factories near Cairo, without compensating them, for one reason only:  The Bigios were Jewish. The Bigios had owned the property since the early 1900s.  Coca-Cola had leased the land and a factory from the Bigios since the 1940s. The Bigios had a longstanding business relationship with Coca-Cola in Egypt, supplying bottle caps and other products to the company.  In 1994 Coke “bought” a minority interest in the Egyptian bottling company that took over the Bigios’ seized property. Three years later, the family sued Coke for trespass in federal district court in New York.

The district court dismissed the Bigios’ case at Coca-Cola’s request, concluding that Egypt was a more appropriate forum to decide their claims.  The Bigios appealed, asking the ZOA to submit an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief on their behalf.  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.  The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the federal district court ruling, and decided that the Bigios’ case could proceed in an American court, saying, “It was perfectly reasonable under these circumstances for the plaintiffs to bring their action against Coca-Cola, the only U.S. company involved, in the United States.”

The ZOA has been actively supporting the Bigios’ cause and has called for a boycott of Coca-Cola products until the company makes a fair settlement with the Bigio family. The ZOA accuses Coke of knowingly “occupying” property that was “stolen” by the Egyptian government from Jewish owners.

“Despite its self-image and promise to act with honesty and integrity in all matters, Coca-Cola has been unfairly and immorally benefiting from the campaign of anti-Semitism against the Bigios,” said Susan Tuchman, Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice.

The Bigios are represented by Washington, D.C. attorneys Nathan and Alyza Lewin, who successfully argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that the Bigios were entitled to proceed with their claims in an American court.   Nathan Lewin is a member of the advisory board of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice.

Raphael Bigio, 63, speaking on behalf of his family, said that he is deeply grateful for the ZOA’s assistance. He hopes that Jews and other “fair-minded” people will stop buying Coke products.

“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.”

Morton A. Klein, National President of ZOA, said:  “This case is important for several reasons: First, it seeks to right a shameful wrong committed by Coca-Cola.  Second, it’s a reminder of the billions of dollars worth of assets, businesses, homes, etc. stolen from Jews in Arab countries.  And finally, the case is a reminder of the close to one million Jewish refugees who suffered in the Arab and Islamic countries in which they lived. Israel and the Jewish community must demand full and fair compensation for their losses.” 

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