Should a Jew rent from Avis?

In the early 1960s, less than 20 years after the end of World War II, a hot topic in the Jewish community was: should a Jew buy a Volkswagen? I never discussed the matter with my parents, but their answer must have been in the affirmative because my mother ended up driving one, and I don’t think she stole it.

In light of this story in the Observer, the question these days might be whether a Jew who supports Israel (or anyone else who does) should rent a car from Avis (or from Budget, which is part of the same company):

On Saturday evening, Dov Bergwerk arrived at the Avis branch on West 76th Street and Broadway. Accompanied by his wife Ruth, the Bergwerks were planning to join friends for dinner in Westchester. Mr. Bergwerk, a senior vice president and general corporate counsel at the Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva, got out his driver’s license, reservation number and “Wizard” loyalty card – he’s rented from Avis dozens of times before – and anticipated the usual smooth transition into a nondescript mid-sized sedan.

Unfortunately, the transition was anything but smooth.

A reservation agent named Angelline declined to honor Mr. Bergwerk’s reservation, saying that it was company policy not to recognize Israeli documents. Stunned, Mr. Bergwerk explained that he had rented from Avis many times, including a car from that very same office on Thursday, November 19 – only two days earlier.

Mr. Bergwerk asked Angelline to access the profile attached to his Wizard card, which shows that he is an executive at a giant multinational company who has no regulatory issues and has rented from Avis, including at that very branch, many times without incident. She refused. They argued.

An Avis manager intervened and took the agent’s side. No car for the Israeli with the Avis “Wizard” loyalty card.

Mr. Bergwerk called the Avis main number and got through to customer service. The representative confirmed to him that the Israeli license was an acceptable form of ID and also mentioned that he could show his passport to ameliorate any ID concerns the on-site employees had.

Mr. Bergwerk put the customer service representative on the phone with Shamoura, the branch manager, and at this point the story evolved. She now claimed that she was declining to rent the Bergwerks a car not because of the insufficient documents but because Mr. Bergwerk had “argued about the way I was being treated in front of other customers,” according to Mr. Bergwerk.

Thus, no car in the end for the Israeli with the Avis “Wizard” loyalty card.

There are two sides to most stories. Here is Avis’:

On Friday, a customer seeking to rent a car from Avis Car Rental in Manhattan was not allowed to do so because he failed to provide the required documentation. Visitors to the U.S. from other countries must provide both a valid drivers license from their country of residence as well as either a valid International Drivers License or passport in order to rent from Avis.

We are aggressively investigating the customer’s allegations regarding the handling of this matter, as we do not tolerate any form of discrimination. So far, our ongoing investigation suggests that this customer is unfairly maligning us with unfounded allegations.

I see three possibilities here. First, Avis refused to rent a car to Bergwerk because he’s Israeli. Second, it wrongly refused to rent him a car because its employees misapplied company policy and/or got mad at him because he argued. Third, Avis’ employees correctly applied company policy in denying Bergwerk the car.

At this point, I don’t think we have enough facts to adjudicate among these scenarios, though the third seems like the least plausible of three, given Avis’ past practice and what Bergwerk says the customer service people told him on the phone. As for the first two scenarios, we may never be able to adjudicate between them.

In the first scenario, it seems clear that supporters of Israel shouldn’t rent from Avis. In the second, it seems to me that we shouldn’t unless the company apologizes.