Published On: Tue, Jun 16th, 2015

Coca-Cola Moves Back in Time with Kent-Khouri Partnership

COCA COLA

Israeli attorney, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and her colleague, Robert J. Tolchin, principals of Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, a civil rights organization that represents American victims of terror in civil litigation in the United States courts, wrote a letter directly to Coca-Cola Chairman of the Board and CEO, Muhtar Kent. The attorneys continue their efforts to counter racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel campaigns designed to delegitimize Israel, including the second Gaza Flotilla.

In their letter to Mr. Kent, they define their organization as “opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is inherently racist, anti-Semitic, biased, and prejudicial and has an extremist agenda, unfairly singling out Israel and Jews. The BDS movement’s primary goal is the destruction of the State of Israel and its Jewish community. It masquerades as a human rights movement, but it singularly fixates on Israel and Jews and ignores egregious human rights abuses that do not feed its anti-Israel agenda.

“Thus, the movement ignores Hamas terrorists who shoot rockets into Israeli civilian population centers with the expressed intent of killing civilians, and it ignores ISIS thugs in Syria and Iraq, who routinely violate every imaginable human right as they kidnap and rape children, behead prisoners of war, burn prisoners of war alive in steel cages, and destroy archaeological treasures. The BDS movement ignores the Syrian regime, with the aid of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, dropping barrel bombs on civilian population centers, and they ignore Iran’s efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb, offensively alarming given its stated goal of genocide against the Jewish population of Israel. For the BDS movement to claim that it is in favor of human rights while ignoring all this is rank hypocrisy.”

Ms. Darshan-Leitner’s letter sends “a warning to the Coca-Cola Company that it should rescind its franchise agreement with the Palestinian National Beverage Company, headed by Zahi Khouri, who openly advocates for BDS against Israel. The Coca-Cola Company should not affiliate itself with any person or entity calling for a boycott or similar effort against the Israeli government or the nation’s manufacturers, companies, products or services. Khouri has supported for BDS in at least two op-ed pieces published in U.S. media outlets. Specifically, the Orlando Sentinel published an op-ed by Khouri in which he advocated for the BDS movement. On May 11, 2015, The Hill published another op-ed by Khouri in which he expressed his support for BDS and criticized Congress for trying to pass anti-BDS legislation. Khouri has also made patently false and incendiary statements accusing Israel of stealing Palestinian land and culture and comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa.”

The attorneys’ letter further stipulates the wish to “put The Coca-Cola Company on notice that the BDS movement’s efforts are unlawful racial discrimination on the basis of national origin and/or race, creed and religion under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (‘Anti-Racism Convention’) and numerous U.S. state and federal statutes.”

These laws include:

  • The Export Administration Act of 1979 (EAA) which discourages, and in some cases prohibits, U.S. companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel sponsored by the Arab League.
  • The Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976 (TRA), prohibiting participation in a boycott of Israel, which includes agreeing to refrain from doing business with companies and/or employing individuals based on nationality, race or religion.
  • 42 USC § 2000e-2(a), which makes it unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
    Id. See also 42 USC § 2000e-3(b); 42 USC § 2000a.

In addition, Congress is passing legislation, already approved by the finance committee in both the House and Senate, to discourage politically motivated actions by foreign countries and international organizations seeking to limit commercial relations with Israel.

The Coca-Cola Company’s own Code of Business Conduct obligates the company to comply with the above laws, stating:

The Company must comply with all applicable trade restrictions and boycotts imposed by the US government. . . These restrictions include, for example, prohibitions on interaction with identified terrorist organizations or narcotics traffickers. Sanctions for non-compliance can be severe; including fines and imprisonment for responsible individuals, and the Company may be prohibited from further participation in certain trade. The Company also must abide by U.S. anti-boycott laws that prohibit companies from participating in any international boycott not sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Coca-Cola’s Business Code also acknowledges that its non-U.S. franchisees are bound by the above referenced US laws.

Participants in the BDS movement act with the clear purpose and actual effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise on an equal footing of the human rights and/or fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural fields of those persons and organizations whom they seek to boycott, divest from and sanction.

A boycott is not protected by the freedom-of-speech language of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because a boycott is not speech, it is action. Calls for and instruction in implementing unlawful actions are not protected speech (see Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 561 U.S., 130 S. Ct. 2705 (2010)).

Darshan-Leitner and Tolchin further urge The Coca-Cola Company to “comply with U.S. law and its own Code of Business Conduct and to rescind its franchise agreement with the Palestinian National Beverage Company headed by Zahi Khouri. As the French telecom-services firm Orange recently made clear, The Coca-Cola Company should also make clear that it will not support any kind of boycott against Israel.”

Implementing BDS policies could result in severe liability for The Coca-Cola Company and its officers.

The letter to Mr. Kent closes requesting written confirmation that he has read and acknowledges the content. In the event he fails to comply with the law, Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center will take all steps permitted by law to ensure that The Coca-Cola Company is not engaged in instituting, promoting, or inciting boycotts of the State of Israel, Israeli manufacturers, companies or their products or services, including, without limitation, filing legal action without further notice.

 

Excerpts from Ms. Darshan-Leitner’s letter used with permission from the author.

1 See, e.g., Wultz v. Islamic Rep. of Iran, 864 F. Supp.2d 24 (D.D.C. 2012); Kaplan v. Central Bank of Islamic Rep. of Iran, __ F. Supp. 2d__, 2014 WL 3610784 (D.D.C. 2014); Wyatt v. Syrian Arab Rep., 908 F. Supp. 2d 216 (D.D.C. 2012); Ungar v. Arafat, 634 F.3d 46 (1st Cir. 2011).

2 Khouri, Zahi, Israel Must Do More to Break the Impasse with Palestine, The Orlando Sentinel, 9/26/2014, available at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-israel-palestine-control-092614-20140925-story.html

3 Khouri, Zahi, New Israeli Government Same Old Misery for Palestinians, The Hill, 5/11/2015, available at http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/241521-new-israeli-government-same-old-misery-for-palestinians; see also Khouri, Zahi, The Palestine Romney Doesn’t Know, The Washington Post, 8/9/2012, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-palestine-romney-doesnt-know/2012/08/09/5de0bcdc-e235-11e1-98e7-89d659f9c106_story.html.

 

 

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