McDonald’s Confirms ‘No Arabic’ policy at its restaurants in Israel

McDonald’s Corporation today confirmed that it has a policy banning its employees from speaking Arabic in its restaurants in Israel, despite the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel form 20% of its workforce, and Arabic is one of the two official languages of Israel. The Corporation denied, however, that Abeer Zinaty, a former “Excellent Worker 2003 — McDonald’s Israel,” was fired because she spoke Arabic on the job.

EI co-founder Ali Abunimah received a statement from Julie Pottebaum, a spokesperson for Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s corporation, after EI contacted the company about the allegations contained in an article in Al-Ahram Weekly.

EI also issued an action alert to its readers, prompting calls and emails from all over the world, urging McDonald’s to investigate allegations that it had a no-Arabic policy, and that at least one employee had been fired for violating it. EI received copies of emails sent to McDonald’s from concerned readers in the US, the Czech Republic, and Jordan among other countries.

The McDonald’s statement said that it was “absolutely not true” that Abeer Zinaty had been fired because she spoke Arabic on the job, and asserted that,

“her employment was terminated by her supervisor, a Palestinian Arab who also speaks Arab, for performance-related reasons.”

At present EI cannot evaluate McDonald’s claim specifically regarding the case of Abeer Zinaty, but is making efforts to obtain further information.

At the same time we are outraged that McDonald’s has confirmed that it has banned the use of Arabic by employees at its 80 restaurants in Israel. The McDonald’s statement said:

“As the largest quick-service restaurant employer in Israel, [McDonald’s Israel is] proud that about 20% of its employees are Israeli Arabs and another 20% are Russian immigrants, which reflects the general population of Israel. Israeli Arabs and Russian immigrants are also represented in the many levels of management. While Hebrew, the common language between all employees, is required to be spoken when on duty in order to best conduct business and best serve our customers, no one has ever been let go for speaking their own language.”

EI can see no justification for banning Palestinian citizens of Israel from using Arabic, their native language, a native language of the country and one of only two official languages of Israel. This policy directly contradicts McDonald’s stated principles encouraging and celebrating diversity, fairness and respect for all its employees. It not only discriminates against Arabic-speaking employees, but also Arabic-speaking customers.

It is unimaginable that in its American restaurants, McDonald’s would prohibit the use of Spanish, the most-commonly spoken language in the United States after English. In a context where Palestinian citizens of Israel face documented, systematic discrimination in employment, education and public services, McDonald’s ought to be setting an example of equal treatment for all. Instead, it has, like so many other companies working in Israel, apparently chosen to make its Arab employees and patrons second class citizens.

In light of McDonald’s admission of its no-Arabic policy, we urge our readers who are concerned about this issue to continue to contact McDonald’s Corporation:

Update

  • Please see McBusted: Mounting evidence supports claim McDonald’s Israel fired worker for speaking Arabic (10 March 2004) before taking action on this matter.