Coca-Cola has long been a symbol of America and capitalism. But according to an article this week in The Economist, for some it’s also an icon of the Zionist conspiracy. No wonder I can’t get enough of the stuff.
The authors of the article demonstrate a neat trick: if you Google “Middle East rumors,” the first page that comes up is a page of the Coke website dedicated to debunking urban legends about Coke’s supposed collusion in the Israeli plot to undermine Islam and crush the Palestinians with violence and economic subversion. (The Economist quotes experts telling Coke to stop responding to the rumors, which will just increase their shelf life.) Some of them are typical dross (claims that Coca-Cola in Arabic, when read backward, spells a slur against Muslims) but others reveal a more troubling strain. As a target of the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement, even when Coke isn’t forced to apologize explicitly for doing business with Israel, it must defend itself by proving how many other countries besides Israel it does business with.
In the page debunking the myth that “Boycotting Coca-Cola makes a statement against America and American (foreign) policies” (the subtext being that it’s a protest against American policies toward Israel), Coke’s marketing team opens with a sweeping description of its global system of local bottling partners, but then clarifies with the example of how many jobs it creates in the Palestinian territories. That page doesn’t make any explicit reference to Israel, but it’s clear that it was written in response to criticism that Coke did too much business in Israel.
More troubling, however, is the “rumor” that “The Coca-Cola Company is a Jewish company.” The classification of this rumor with other more obvious slurs is telling: those who spread the rumor that Coca-Cola is a Jewish company clearly imply that Jewish ownership is a black mark on any company; and that in a company as large and (supposedly) powerful as Coca-Cola, Jewish ownership is downright dangerous. The Coca-Cola website states:
“We believe the origins of this rumor date back to 1967, when the Arab League pronounced a boycott against companies for conducting business in Israel, following the tensions in the Middle East. The Coca-Cola Company and its bottling partners were present in many Arab and Muslim countries before Coca-Cola was introduced in Israel, and came back to the Arab countries as soon as the boycott was lifted.”
This would be a plausible explanation if the rumor had been “Coca-Cola is an Israeli company,” but it incompletely addresses the origins of the claim that Coca-Cola is a Jewish company. That is, unless one believes (as many people in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement do) that a shadow “Israel lobby” controls American politics and the economy (the modern-day manifestation of the long-lived “Zionist conspiracy” theory most famously put into words in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion). If one lends credence to the “Israel lobby” conspiracy theory, powerful Jews are dangerous and deserve to be exposed and suppressed, lest they carry out their nefarious schemes of economic and military domination. On its website, Coca-Cola attempts to defend itself against this classic anti-Semitic slander, while cloaking it in euphemism to flatter the sensitivities of their customers. Coke is a non-political company, so I don’t blame them for tiptoeing around that minefield.
The myth of a puppeteer “Israel lobby” isn’t a fringe theory, unfortunately. It has been given false legitimacy by academics to advance their own political agendas. And while some of its propagators may claim they are seeking peace between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the real agenda behind the myth is the delegitimization of the state of Israel by pinning every advance of Israel in public opinion or politics on the machinations a secretive, anti-democratic cabal of powerful Jews. No wonder the promoters of this myth seek to implicate already recognizable, and undeniably powerful, corporations like Coca-Cola in the story they seek to construct.
I would say Coca-Cola is courageous for continuing to do business in Israel despite the BDS movement’s efforts to besmirch its name, but let’s be honest: they aren’t really risking much. Wherever Coke goes, it will be nitpicked by the enemies of prosperity who seek to discredit the giants of commerce simply because they’re big. But oh, how easy it is for extremist groups to take advantage of the naiveté of garden-variety anti-business hippies and exploit it for the ends of Jew-hatred.