Hertz withdraws from Israeli airline deal

Free car rental offered to customers who show 'solidarity' with Gaza action

The world's largest car hire firm last night called on the Israeli airline EL AL to withdraw an internet advert which offered free Hertz rental to British passengers who flew to to Israel to show their "solidarity" with the country, The Independent has learnt.

The adverts, running on EL AL's website, stated: "Now, more than ever is the time to come to Israel. Come express your solidarity with Israel. Fly with EL AL and receive 3 or 4 day car rental for free!"

The advert had a clearly visible Hertz logo and when users clicked on it they could view the terms and conditions which stated that the deal with Hertz Israel was valid for EL AL tickets to the country.

But last night the Hertz Corporation said they did not want to be associated with the offer and said they had called on EL AL to remove it. They have already insisted that their logo be taken off the promotion.

The deal was launched on 8 January, five days after Israel began its ground offensive in Gaza. "We have already had numerous bookings as a result from the promotion," said Anat Freidman, a spokeswoman for EL AL. "We think that the adverts will appeal to anyone wanting to come to Israel."

But the promotion sparked anger in the British Muslim community. "We're appalled by EL AL's advert," said Asghar Bukhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, one of Britain's leading Muslim civil rights groups. "It's really shocking that this type of promotion can run when innocent Palestinian civilians are being killed on a daily basis. Muslims around the world are already taking a stand and boycotting companies who are actively supporting Israeli companies.

"If a company like Hertz would pull out of this deal with EL AL it would speak volumes, and mean so much to so many people. We would applaud such a decision."

A Hertz Corporation spokeswoman said it had not been aware of the promotion being run by EL AL and their Israeli franchise operator who trades under the Hertz brand. He added that the offer was designed, run and managed by EL AL.

"We regret if any individuals were offended by the language that EL AL used to promote this offer," said Hertz's spokesperson.

"The Hertz Corporation, through its franchisees, has an active presence throughout the the Middle East and has partnership agreements with several Middle Eastern airlines. Hertz has no political affiliations whatsoever and provides a car rental service to its customers wherever it is required."

"We are in touch with EL AL and have asked them to consider withdrawing the reference to 'solidarity'. However we are not in control of their website."

The Hertz Corporation is the largest car rental company in the world, and has operations in more than 140 countries. It was founded in Chicago in 1918 by Walter L Jacobs who sold it five years later to Slovakian born John D Hertz, who renamed the company.

In 2005 Ford sold Hertz to a private equity group consisting of Clayton Dubilier & Rice, The Carlyle Group and Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity in a $5.6bn deal.

Several companies who do business with Israel are facing boycotts. "Emails are being circulated alerting people about which companies to boycott," said Inayat Bunglawala, from the British Muslim organisation ENGAGE.

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