By Linda Gradstein/The Media Line
When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, everything, even a hamburger, is political. Israelis who live in areas that Israel acquired in 1967 are up in arms over McDonald’s decision not to open a branch in the mall that will be built in Ariel over the next year.
In Israel, the McDonald’s franchise is private and is owned by Omri Padan, one of the founders of the dovish group Peace Now, which opposes Israeli building in post-1967 areas. There are 170 McDonald’s restaurants in Israel, about 40 of which are kosher. The company’s website claims it is the largest employer of youth in Israel, giving jobs to 3000 teenagers, along with 1000 adults.
Padan declined to give an interview to The Media Line but his office sent a one-line reply.
“This has always been the policy of Dr. Omri Padan,” referring to the decision not to open restaurants in Ariel, the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, or even East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed.
Some in Israel welcomed Padan’s decision.
“In every democratic country everyone has the right to decide where to live and where to open his business,” Yariv Oppenheimer, the director general of Peace Now told The Media Line. “Padan did not want to take part in “settlement” activity. He thinks the “settlements” are damaging to Israel and we agree.”
Some right-wing leaders disagreed.
Settler leader Yigal Dilmony said that while he doesn’t support boycotts, consumers should vote with their wallets.
“Every citizen who cares about the state of Israel should think before he buys a burger who is he financing?” Dilmony asked The Media Line. “Burger Ranch (a rival local Israeli chain) said they will open in the new mall. Israeli citizens should support those chains with Zionist values.
Others went even further.
“I urge the public to boycott anyone who boycotts it,” Housing Minister Uri Ariel said. “Only then will they get the message and the boycotts will stop.”
Oppenheimer of Peace Now reacted sharply saying Padan’s decision is not a boycott.
“Nobody is saying that “settlers” are not allowed to buy McDonald’s,” he said, referring to Israelis who live in post-1967 areas. “You can’t fault him for not building in a place they don’t want to remain part of Israel.”
The dispute erupted as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region for yet another attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinians say that all of the areas that Israel acquired in 1967 must become part of the Palestinian state and all 330,000 Jewish residents there must leave. Israel says it wants to hold onto what it calls “settlement blocs” including Ariel.
“I think the decision not to open a McDonald’s here is a mistake and hurts a large population,” Ariel mayor Eliezer Shaviro told The Media Line. “Any kind of boycott is a mistake and causes more division.”
Shaviro says residents are trying hard for coexistence with their Palestinian neighbors.
“In our industrial zone we have factories where Israelis and Palestinians work together and Palestinians make five times what they would in Nablus or Ramallah,” he said, referring to two nearby Palestinian towns. “If there is a boycott on Ariel, these factories might have to fire workers, and the Palestinians will join the cycle of violence instead of the “cycle of income.”
It is not the first time that Ariel, which boasts a university of 13,000 students, both Arabs and Jews has been in the news. In 2011, 165 academics said they would not participate in academic functions at Ariel University because it sits on post-1967 land.
A year earlier, dozens of actors said they would not participate in cultural events there.
Israelis are especially sensitive to boycotts as the country has recently been the target. Recently, physicist Steven Hawking pulled out of a conference to protest Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has stepped up activity and dozens of artists including musician Elvis Costello and actors Dustin Hoffman and Meg Ryan have cancelled appearances.
Others have rejected the boycott calls. Barbra Streisand played to tens of thousands of enraptured fans earlier this month, and Alicia Keys appears next month.