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McDonald's cancels singer after American Jewish Committee complains

Sing a song of conflict

The McFalafel's short-lived advertising campaign featuring Sha'bi singer Sha'ban Abdel Rahim takes some unusual turns

By Dalia Dabbous
Cairo Times
Volume 5, Issue 20
19 - 25 JULY 2001

Sha’ban Abdel Rahim took Egypt by storm with his hit single I hate Israel, echoing feelings prevalent across the country when anti-Israel sentiments are running high, making him an instant star.

However, things took a turn for the weird when the same song was the reason behind the cancellation of a McDonald’s ad advertising the new McFalafel sandwich. Abdel Rahim sang a version of his hit tune as a McFalafel jingle, which unsettled some Jewish organizations.

Only three weeks after the ad was televised, it was removed due to complaints received from the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Or so the media claims.

But according to a McDonald’s marketing executive who preferred not to use his name, there is no link between the cancellation of the commercial and the complaints from the AJC. According to him, the commercial was only aired for three weeks because it had satisfied their marketing purposes in that period.

The AJC, however, tells another story. "Thank you for moving so quickly to cancel the new Egyptian ad campaign featuring a hateful singer," said Shulamit Bahat, acting executive director of the AJC in a letter to McDonald’s senior vice president, Jack Daly.

In a telephone interview with the Cairo Times, Kenneth Bandler, a spokesperson for AJC said that the McDonald’s headquarters in the U.S. were "very concerned" about the McDonald’s ad and the complaints they were receiving from AJC. "Something like this would never happen in the U.S." he said, describing the commercial as "outrageous" and Abdel Rahim as "a known sponsor of hate." He added the AJC would have spoken up even if this was something offensive to other groups like Arabs, or Muslims.

McDonald’s Egypt affirms they received no pressure from anyone to cancel the ad. In any case, Abdel Rahim is angry, and is planning to sue. According to his lawyer, Ala’ Wahba, the contract between McDonald’s and Abdel Rahim stated that the ad would run for one year and that in that year "he was not allowed to do commercials for competitor fast food chains."

"He was harmed professionally since he can’t participate in other ads because the contract has not been officially cancelled and McDonald’s violated the contract by canceling it after 3 weeks," he explains, adding that the contract pointed out that the violating party would pay a LE250,000 fine.

There were no violations, argues the marketing executive at McDonald’s, refusing to discuss details of the contract. "We did our part, and he did his," he says, adding that Abdel Rahim has no say in the ad’s duration. According to him, McDonald’s Egypt has no knowledge of the lawsuit and points out that the everything is "legitimate."

At this point, Abdel Rahim is still coming to terms with what happened and regrets he ever did the ad. "If I had ever known that McDonald’s was related to or would benefit anything Jewish or American, I would never have done the ad," he told the Cairo Times. "How could I do that if I sang ‘I Hate Israel?’"

McDonald's drops 'I Hate Israel'
from advertisements

by Philip Smucker

McDonald's, which had been hurt by a pan-Arab boycott of American firms because of US support for Israel, hired Abdel-Rahim to promote its "McFalafel" sandwich in television advertisements.

AFTER weeks of Western and Israeli criticism, McDonald's in Egypt said yesterday it had ended a contract with a singer best known for his chart-topping song I Hate Israel.

McDonald's, which had been hurt by a pan-Arab boycott of American firms because of US support for Israel, hired Abdel-Rahim to promote its "McFalafel" sandwich in television advertisements.

Abdel-Rahim also made a special tape to be played in outlets across Egypt.

Company officials said yesterday all copies of the tapes had been whisked "back to the main offices" last week.

However, they confirmed the promotion had succeeded, spurring huge sales of the McFalafel.

"Mr Abdel-Rahim is a man that you either hate or love but most Egyptians love him," said Abd El Nasser Aziz, a McDonald's executive in Egypt.

The American Jewish Committee thanked McDonald's for ending the campaign by "a hateful singer".

McDonald's dumps "I hate Israel" singer

By The Associated Press
July, 05 2001

McDonald's international headquarters says a performer who gained fame singing "I hate Israel" will no longer also be singing the praises of a new Mideast-flavored snack on the fast food giant's menus in Egypt.

But Anna Rozenich, a McDonald's spokeswoman speaking by telephone Tuesday from the firm's international headquarters near Chicago, would not directly link the end of the run of TV commercials starring Shaaban Abdel-Rehim with complaints she acknowledged receiving from an American Jewish group.

"Basically it was a local marketing decision made by McDonalds Egypt on a promotion for McFalafel. And certainly I would encourage you to contact McDonald's Egypt because they make local marketing decisions," Rozenich said.

Repeated attempts to contact McDonald's Egypt executives, however, were unsuccessful. Rozenich said she believed the ad stopped running last month.

In May, McDonald's franchises in Egypt began serving its version of the traditional Arab snack known as a falafel - deep-fried patties of ground beans flavored with spices.

The McFalafel jingle featured Abdel-Rahim, whose hit "I hate Israel" earlier this year helped fuel an anti-Israeli and anti-American campaign during Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, told The Associated Press that Abdel-Rehim was a "sponsor of hatred," and that the committee had issued a statement complaining about the singer's McDonald's ad in Egypt.

Abdel-Rehim told the AP he was unhappy and surprised to hear his ad was pulled.

"The company already knew when they chose me that I am the one who sang the song" "I hate Israel," he said.