ISRAELI MCDONALD'S: Arab gets an order 'to go'

P. Kerim Friedman kerim.list at
Sun Mar 28 23:40:14 UTC 2004


ISRAELI MCDONALD'S: Arab gets an order 'to go'

Fast-food worker says she was fired for speaking Arabic and breaking
the chain's Hebrew-only rule


  March 22, 2004

  JERUSALEM - "I'm lovin' it," say the T-shirts of McDonald's fast-food
employees in Israel - but on the job, they must voice their enthusiasm
(or order up more fries) only in Hebrew.

  The McDonald's chain has come under criticism for its Hebrew-only
policy in the past month, since an ethnic Arab university student,
Abeer Zinaty, and her McDonald's boss said she was fired for speaking

  Zinaty, 20, worked for more than two years at a McDonald's restaurant
in Ramle, a partly Arab, partly Jewish town near Tel Aviv. She has told
Israeli newspapers that things were going well at work, and to make the
point she has shown reporters a company T-shirt, labeled "Excellent
Worker 2003," that she won from her superiors.

  But in December, her manager fired her and "told me that ... above all
it is because I speak too much Arabic" at work, Zinaty told the daily
Maariv newspaper. Her regional supervisor, Hazem Natshe, also an Arab,
said speaking Arabic was one of several reasons she was let go.

  When an Arab-Israeli civil rights group, Mossawa, complained,
McDonald's Israeli human resources director, Talila Yodfat, explained
in a letter that workers in the company's 80-plus restaurants in Israel
must "speak between themselves and clients just in Hebrew. This is to
prevent uncomfortable situations for workers and clients, who mostly
speak Hebrew."

  The letter did not explain why it would be uncomfortable for
Hebrew-speakers to hear other languages in the company's restaurants.
Outside McDonald's doors, Israel is a polyglot society in which Arabic
and Russian are each spoken by about 20 percent of the population.
Arabic is, alongside Hebrew, an official language of the state.

  Mossawa said the suppression of Arabic is common in Israel, where a
number of companies ban Arabs from speaking their native tongue. Many
Arab Israelis and Palestinians from East Jerusalem suppress their
language and identity to work in Israeli firms.

  Israeli fears of the Arab minority, which makes up about 15 percent of
the population, have increased during the current intifada, or
uprising, which has seen more than 100 suicide attacks in Israel in the
past three years. Politicians routinely talk about the threat Arab
Israelis pose to Israel's security and character.

  In a state committed to being both democratic and Jewish, Arabs - who
are overwhelmingly Muslim - are guaranteed many rights but often say
they can never achieve real equality.

  In Zinaty's case, human resources director Yodfat denied that Zinaty's
dismissal had anything to do with speaking Arabic and rejected
Mossawa's complaint that the company's policy is racist. McDonald's
Israel, a licensee of the Illinois-based chain, says its employees
include Arabs and Russians in proportion to their presence in the
general Israeli population.

  In response to requests for comment, McDonald's Israel made no
reference to Zinaty's case but softened its description of its language
policy. "Employees are free to speak in any language they want to our
customers, while on break or in social conversations with others,
including Arabic and Russian," the company said in an e-mail message
last week. "When employees are performing work-specific activities, we
ask that they speak in Hebrew. No one has ever been let go for speaking
their own language."

  In part, the company's public relations problem may reflect the
difficulties of navigating Israel's deep divisions: between Arabs and
Jews, and between the secular and the religious. The company stresses
that it "respects local culture" and maintains separate kosher
restaurants that close on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and serve no
cheeseburgers or other foods counter to Jewish dietary laws.

  Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

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