McConfusion: McDonald’s Israel reportedly backs down, while McDonald’s HQ stonewalls

McDonald’s Israel has reportedly reversed its prohibition on its Arab workers speaking Arabic to each other and to customers, but its US headquarters continues to stonewall and provide contradictory information. In this alert, EI explains the latest developments, and urges readers to continue with their effective action.

The Problem

According to the Arabic-language newspaper in Israel, Hadith an-Nass, the reversal of the no-Arabic policy was announced in a letter sent by McDonald’s Israel to the Mossawa center for Arab rights. Mossawa has been spearheading a campaign on behalf of Abeer Zinaty who alleges McDonald’s dismissed her for speaking Arabic on the job to other Arab workers and customers. Arabic is a native and official language in Israel.

This response comes after Mossawa and The Electronic Intifada launched campaigns to force McDonald’s to rescind its discriminatory no-Arabic policy, and reinstate and compensate Abeer Zinaty, who had shortly before she was fired been recognized by the company as an “Excellent Worker 2003.”

Electronic Intifada readers from all over the world have responded to action alerts asking them to call and email McDonald’s. In recent weeks, this issue has been covered in the major Israeli daily, Ma’ariv, the Arabic daily in Israel Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahram Weekly, The Guardian, and The Melbourne Age, and the story continues to spread. McDonald’s, one of the world’s best-known brands, has 80 restaurants in Israel, dozens in Arab countries, and more than thirteen thousand around the world.

While news of McDonald’s Israel’s reversal is encouraging, McDonald’s Corporation headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois continues to deny, stonewall and provide contradictory and questionable information.

Many people who have written to the company have received a standard reply which avoids, rather than addresses fundamental issues about workers’ rights and dignity, and the rights of Abeer Zinaty in particular.

The McDonald’s statement makes two key claims:

(1) McDonald’s says, “Regarding the recently fired employee, her employment was terminated for performance reasons by her supervisor, a Palestinian Arab who also speaks Arabic. No one has ever been let go for speaking his own language.”

It should be noted that this response ignores compelling evidence published by EI on 10 March 2004. In particular, EI obtained a handwritten statement from the McDonald’s manager at the branch where Abeer Zinaty worked, in which he specifies in the grounds for firing her, that:

“Abeer spoke Arabic to her Arabic co-workers while she was on duty, even though Abeer knows that Hebrew is the language for interpersonal communications at work.”

The manager made several other claims about Abeer’s behaviour, which are inconsistent with what is known and acknowledged by the company about her excellent prior work record, and which she has denied. But Abeer admits she spoke Arabic.

So far, McDonald’s Corporation continues to refuse to address this direct evidence, properly investigate Zinaty’s case and make proper restitution including reinstatement and compensation, even though a committee of the Israeli parliament termed her firing by McDonald’s “immoral and inhumane.”

(2) McDonald’s says, “In order to best serve our customers, Hebrew is spoken when employees are conducting business. Our employees are free to speak on non-business related matters in whatever language they choose while on duty, including Arabic. They can also speak the preferred language of a customer, including Arabic.”

This statement indicates that McDonald’s Corporation headquarters in the United States may be confused or misled about the practices of its licensee in Israel. In a 27 January 2004 letter from McDonald’s Israel to Mossawa center, the company stated:

“there is a directive known to all chain employees, that restaurant staff will speak, among themselves and with clients, only in the Hebrew language. This is in order to prevent discomfort felt by clients and staff, who mostly speak Hebrew.”

There is no justification whatsoever for prohibiting an Arab worker from speaking to another Arab worker using their native language, under any circumstances, especially when Arabic is an official language of Israel with equal status to Hebrew. McDonald’s would not dare to force its thousands of Spanish-speaking employees in the United States to speak only English. Yet it reserves a special, separate and unequal standard for its workers of Palestinian origin in Israel.

What McDonald’s Corporation must do is issue a clear, unequivocal statement that it has rescinded all restrictions on the use of Arabic in its restaurants, by its workers, and that henceforth Arab workers will have equal status and protection, which includes the right to speak their own language without restrictions or fear.

The Solution

  1. In light of these developments, The Electronic Intifada asks its readers worldwide to intensify their contacts with McDonald’s Corporation to::
    1. Demand that McDonald’s stop avoiding the written evidence from its own branch manager that Abeer Zinaty was fired for speaking Arabic, immediately investigate the case properly, and treat her justly and fairly.
    2. Demand that McDonald’s Corporation issue an unequivocal statement that it will immediately lift all restrictions on the use of Arabic in its restaurants in Israel, and that henceforth Arab workers and the Arabic language will be accorded equal status to Hebrew at all times.
    3. Demand that McDonald’s stop simply asserting that “it values the diversity of all our employees,” and show it with concrete, unequivocal and immediate action.

    You may contact McDonald’s by the following means:

    Mail:
    Mr. Jim Cantalupo
    Chief Executive Officer
    McDonald’s Corporation
    McDonald’s Plaza
    Oak Brook, IL 60523

    Telephone:
    1-800-244-6227

    E-mail:
    Via McDonald’s contact page

  2. Please write original letters and do not simply copy & paste the information above. As always, be brief, polite, quote accurately, and include your name, address, and telephone number
  3. Send a copy of your letter or any response you receive to info@electronicIntifada.net

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  • BY TOPIC: McDonald’s Israel’s ban on Arabic