June 16, 2015; Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post in its June 16th edition reported that the Tel Aviv-based NGO Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Center) has called upon Coca Cola to revoke its franchise agreements with the Palestinian National Beverage Company. At issue are comments made by the bottler’s CEO that viewed BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) as ways to peacefully pressure Israel into a peace treaty with the Palestinians.
According to its website, Shurat HaDin was formed in 2003 to stop “the flow of money to terrorists through the use of civil suits and other legal means” and achieve “justice and compensation for terror victims from terrorist organizations, their sponsors, and the financial institutions that aid and abet their criminal activities.” In a statement, Shurat HaDin charged:
“Zahi Khouri, PNBC’s CEO…has supported the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement against Israel and made other incendiary comments against the Jewish state. He made his support for BDS clear in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed piece in September 2014 where he said that ‘the nonviolent efforts of BDS advocates make sense as a means to force Israel to recognize that the occupation is not cost-free.’ He has called for compensation for Palestinian refugees, a notoriously anti-peace position. Khouri has also made patently false and incendiary statements accusing Israel of stealing Palestinian land and culture and comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa and he has accused Israel of stealing Palestinian history and culture.”
Mr. Khoury, who is active in Breaking the Impasse, an initiative that brings Israeli and Palestinian business leaders into dialogue in search of a peaceful solutions to the decades-long conflict, wrote the op-ed in question in the wake of last summer’s Gaza conflict. He reflected on his frustration with the continued stalemate and the impact of the war on the people of Gaza:
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“We made so little progress (in the Breaking the Impasse effort) that I am now contemplating whether the supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement will achieve more. I wholeheartedly support the newest Palestinian initiative to buy local products rather than the Israeli products that flood our markets. In the absence of serious negotiations, the nonviolent efforts of BDS advocates make sense as a means to force Israel to recognize that the occupation is not cost-free.”
And with these words, Shurat HaDin says, a line was crossed. In a letter to Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s CEO, Shurat HaDin’s president demanded “the Coca-Cola Company…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.”
Mr. Khouri has been long been active in efforts to strengthen the Palestinian economy and in support of establishing an independent Palestinian state. He recently accepted the Oslo Business for Peace Award.
This challenge to multinational Coca-Cola comes just weeks after the French telecommunications company Orange was embroiled in a similar controversy. The Guardian reported that the company’s CEO, Stéphane Richard, “indicated that it intends to terminate its relationship with the Israeli company that licenses its brand in the country—and would end the relationship ‘tomorrow’ if it could.” After a strong backlash to the comments, Mr. Richard apologized for his comments, made in Egypt earlier this month, and travelled to the Jewish state last week to explain himself in a meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
While neither Coca-Cola nor Mr. Khouri has responded to Shurat HaDin’s accusation and demand, the action by Shurat HaDin has placed a spotlight on the BDS effort and the possible costs for its advocates.—Marty Levine