The Shurat HaDin Legal Center in Israel has threatened the Coca-Cola Company on Monday with a lawsuit unless it cancels its contract with the Palestinian franchise and its CEO, who has expressed support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
“This letter is 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,” wrote Shurat HaDin President Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and U.S. adviser Robert J. Tolchin, in a letter to Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent.
“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,” a copy of the letter obtained by the Algemeiner read.
Their letter was a follow-up to an article published in the New York Observer also on Monday, which cited a list of examples in which Khouri clearly expressed support for BDS, an acronym for the boycott movement.
In an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinal in 2014, Khouri wrote: “Non-violent efforts of … BDS advocates make sense as a means to force Israel to recognize that the occupation is not cost-free.”
Separately, in Washington DC insider newspaper The Hill, the Palestinian-American businessman criticized Congress for introducing legislation aimed at countering the BDS movement, which Kouri insisted was “a means to secure Palestinian freedom.”
Critics of BDS allege that the movement practices a double standard against the Jewish state despite the atrocities of neighboring Syria or the Islamic State. Others have claimed the movement is filled with activists who use the Palestinian cause as a guise for antisemitism, or to demonize Jews or Israeli Jews.
A bill aimed at discouraging politically motivated actions by foreign countries and international organizations seeking to limit trade with Israel has passed initial hurdles in the House and Senate. Earlier this month, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed off on a law aimed at prohibiting the boycott of a country with which the state has open trade agreements, such as Israel.
Shurat HaDin noted that “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.”
According to the Coca-Cola website, as part of its Palestinian operations, the company employs some 400 individuals at bottling plants in Ramallah, Jericho and Tulkarem, and in seven distribution points. The company said it is the third largest employer in the Palestinian territories.
A new $20 million Coca-Cola bottling plant was scheduled to open in Gaza this year.
Shurat HaDin recently threatened a food co-op in New York with a similar lawsuit.