Boycott Watch  
March 30, 2011
American Express Beat Back Israel Boycotters
Summary: Once notified Israel was removed from their website, Amex took swift action to fix what a rogue employee did without authorization - a lesson for management.
By Fred Taub
President, Boycott Watch

   March 28, 2011, Debbie Schlussel broke the story that American Express for some reason is missing Israel on its worldwide map of countries. Her story raised a good question since there is no doubt Jews comprise a major consumer block, and because the map lists nine Arab nations. The obvious question was could American Express be boycotting Israel?

   I called American Express and spoke to a Vice President in their Media Relations department. Upon hearing Boycott Watch was calling and why, I was immediately transferred to Mr. James Tobin, Senior Vice President. It is important to note that among the Fortune 500 companies, a Vice President and even Senior Vice President title with a department name is common among executives, but still indicates a high level of authority. A Senior Vice President without a department name, however, means the particular executive is a very high ranking. The fact that the Boycott Watch call was immediately transferred Mr. Tobin testifies to how serious American Express took this matter, as well as the fact that businesses know the Boycott Watch name and how seriously our calls are taken.

   This was the first time Mr. Tobin heard of the issue. He stated American Express would never boycott Israel and promised he would look into it and get back to me. Within thirty minutes, Mr. Tobin called back and informed me it was indeed a mistake and Israel had been listed previously, but for some reason was missing. He then said his IT staff told him it would take a few weeks to rectify the problem.

   I believe Mr. Tobin was sincere, and I informed Mr. Tobin that it looks as if someone in his IT staff was giving him the run-around because restoring a link should only take a few hours at most; but considering they may have to restore the data from a backup which is most likely stored off-site, it may take as long as 2 days since the backup will have to be located and retrieved from off-site storage, be returned to the IT department, and then processed to make sure they restored the proper data. Mr. Tobin thanked me for letting him know how IT works with such matters, and we then had a conversation about the depth of the Arab boycott of Israel, the legal ramifications of boycotting Israel and how boycotting Israel actually hurts businesses. Mr. Tobin sounded genuinely sincere and anxious to resolve the issue.

   Sure enough, the problem was fixed with the exact timing I predicted - Two days after my call, Debbie Schlussel broke the story that Amex restored Israel to their list of countries.

   Boycott Watch understands that companies such as American Express wouldn't simply remove a country from their website on a whim with no public discussion or even a press release. Boycott Watch is also very good at reading voices over the phone and getting to the truth quickly. We believe that an American Express employee or contractor removed Israel without permission or authorization whatsoever, and the problem was not noticed by Amex until our phone call. The one thing we do know is that there is always an audit trail, including the ability to look at backups and determine the exact date the file was last changed. A simple walk through backups will reveal that. There are also people in charge of various parts of websites and changes are signed off on, so it will not take long for Amex to figure out exactly who made the change. Considering the impact of the unauthorized change to the Amex reputation, Boycott Watch believes someone will be fired. The fact is no individual can enact corporate policy by themselves, and in this case Amex promptly fixed the rogue act.

   Additionally, had Amex purposely engaged in the illegal foreign boycott of Israel per U.S. Code Part 760, the company would have lots of extra paperwork to file, including U.S. Department of Commerce reports and IRS forms as described in my book Boycotting Peace. We all know that is not something companies want to deal with.

   There is a lesson for management here, and it does not just apply to engaging in the Arab boycott of Israel or other Jewish hatred. Management must monitor staff to ensure there are no attempts at political sabotage in a company. In the two days this story hit the blogs, damage had been done to the reputation of American Express. Kudos to Debbie Schlussel and her readers for both breaking the story and now setting the record straight.

   Immediately upon reading Debbie's website which states Israel was restored to the Amex website, I called Mr. Tobin to thank him, leaving a message with his assistant who was clearly in the loop regarding this issue. While it was near the end of the business day and there was no significant need to call me back, it was nice to see American Express doing the right thing, and fast. His actions spoke volumes, so there is no reason for Mr. Tobin to call me back today, but I hope to thank him sometime for his fine work. Boycott Watch is very impressed with American Express and, of course, Debbie and her readers who were on top of the situation.

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