Claim: Coca-Cola was once considered anti-Semitic for refusing to do business in Israel.
Origins: The last forty-odd years have seen allegations of anti-Semitism hurled at both
doing business in the Middle East often depended upon not doing business in Israel. The Arab League was quick to boycott, and multinational concerns were forced to choose between the smaller market of Israel and the much larger market of the combined Arab states. For firms caught in the middle, it was a “no win” situation.
Coca-Cola’s turn in the harsh spotlight of public opinion came in 1966.
April 1 1966: At a press conference in
In 1961 an incident in Cairo involving civil servant Mohammad Abu Shadi momentarily shattered the quiet. Shadi had come into possession of a
The manager of
It wasn’t until 1966 that people began to wonder openly why it was that nearby Cyprus had no difficulty supporting its
When these issues came to light in 1966, they proved highly embarrassing to
Pepsi’s entry into Israel in 1992 did not go smoothly: the evolution theme of its “Choice of a New Generation” ad campaign (in which man was portrayed as evolving from a monkey into a Pepsi drinker) angered the strictly observant haredi community. Though Pepsi pulled the campaign from Israel, it found itself in more hot water over a 1993 Michael Jackson tour. Jackson’s unthinking flashbulb-popping arrival on a Sabbath was viewed by many observant Jews as a desecration. For a time Pepsi lost its kashrut (kosher) certificate because it was deemed to be promoting a culture that would corrupt the nation’s youth through rock music concerts and advertisements featuring scantily-clad women.
Prior to 1992, Pepsi had backed the other horse, choosing to service the lucrative
The Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith investigated claims that Pepsi was participating in the boycott of Israel. U.S. law prohibited American companies from taking part in this boycott, but the law was vague, and outright violations were hard to pin down. Nothing ever came of the investigations, and Pepsi was never placed on the American government’s list of violators.
Pepsi always denied it was the fear of losing their Arab markets that kept them out of Israel. Like
Many people in the United States believed Pepsi was going along with the boycott, whether it was proveable in the eyes of U.S. law or not. Those lucrative Arab markets did not come without a price, and Pepsi paid it in loss of goodwill in the U.S. A significant number of American cola drinkers grew up suspecting Pepsi of being anti-Israel and refrained from buying their product. By contrast,
This appearance failed to take into account
Today you can get either Coke or Pepsi in anywhere in the Middle East, and the days of the boycott have faded into memory. Even so, there are still those who observe the stricture of “Coke is for Jews; Pepsi is for Arabs.” Old wounds are not necessarily healed wounds.
Barbara “Pepsi challenge” Mikkelson
Last updated: 15 May 2011
Allen, Frederick. Secret Formula. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. ISBN 0-88730-672-1 (pp.
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Sommer, Allison Kaplan. “Pepsi-Cola’s Anti-Israel Boycott Comes Back to Haunt Them” The Jerusalem Post. 12 August 1994. Zadka, Saul. “Coca-Cola Comes off Arab Blacklist.” The [London] Independent. 15 September 1991 (p. 8). Agence France Presse. “Pepsi-Cola Faces Kosher War.” 15 May 1992. Business Week. “Coke’s Breakthrough into the Arab World.” 10 April 1978 (p. 40). Fortune. “Pepsi for Israel?” 26 December 1983 (p. 12). Fortune. “Pepsico to Enter Israeli Market.” 16 September 1990 (p. 8). The Orange County Register. “Briefly Business.” 12 January 1989 (p. E3). Reuters. “Pepsi Withdraws Evolution Ad Campaign in Israel.” 17 May 1992.