McDonald’s Israel reportedly fires employee for speaking Arabic

The Electronic Intifada urges its readers to write to McDonald’s Corporation about allegations of institutionalized racism and discrimination against Arab employees by its subsidiary in Israel. At least one employee has reportedly been fired because she spoke Arabic to a co-worker.

The Problem

Abeer Zinaty, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origin was fired from her job at a McDonald’s restaurant in Ramle, central Israel, specifically because she spoke Arabic to a co-worker, according to a report by Jonathan Cook in Al-Ahram Weekly (4-10 March 2004).

The Al-Ahram Weekly report stated that, “Nominally, Arabic is an official language of the State of Israel, but it has been long-standing practice in many Israeli firms to ban its use among staff. It is the first time, however, that a company of McDonald’s stature has implicitly acknowledged that speaking in Arabic provides grounds for dismissal. The decision to fire Zinaty for speaking Arabic was confirmed by McDonald’s Ramle branch manager to Al-Ittihad, a local Arab daily newspaper, last month.”

The Al-Ahram Weekly report added that in a subsequent letter to Mossawa — a political lobbying group for Israel’s one million Palestinian citizens — McDonald’s Israel’s “Human Resources Director Talila Yodfat said that all workers are instructed ‘to use only Hebrew when talking among themselves or in front of customers to avoid uncomfortable situations.’ However, faced with threats of legal action, Yodfat is now also arguing that the ban on Arabic was not racist in intent but to avoid possible ‘miscommunication’ between staff of different ethnic groups.”

McDonald’s Corporation, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, says on its website that, “At McDonald’s, we know that people are our most valuable resource. We aim to be the best employer in each community around the world where we do business.”

Among the “People Principles” it trumpets, are “Fair and respectful treatment” for all its workers anywhere in the world, and it boasts that, “McDonald’s has a long-standing and distinguished record for diversity — as an employer, franchiser, and purchaser of goods and services. We recognize not only a responsibility to provide opportunity, but also the advantages of having a workforce with diverse backgrounds and perspectives.”

McDonald’s says that throughout its system, “Diversity education is an ongoing process, creating awareness and building skill for managing an inclusive, diverse workforce at McDonald’s.”

If McDonald’s Israel is banning employees from using their native language in its restaurants, which is also one of the official languages of the country, that would be entirely at odds with McDonald’s stated principles of “social responsibility,” and it would constitute an unacceptable form of racist discrimination.

McDonald’s Corporation has over 13,000 restaurants around the world, including dozens in Israel and Arab countries.

Update

  • Please see McDonald’s Confirms “no-Arabic” policy at its restaurants in Israel (5 March 2004) before taking action on this matter.