JERUSALEM – Israeli settlers on Thursday called for a boycott against U.S. fast food chain McDonald's. The settlers themselves have been the target of boycotts, by groups that oppose their residence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, so it's a bit of a role reversal.
Settler groups are urging settlers specifically and Israeli citizens in general to refrain from entering McDonald's restaurants around Israel. The move is a response to a local McDonald's franchise that announced earlier this week that it had turned down an offer to open a branch in the town of Ariel.
The fourth largest settlement in the West Bank, Ariel is a suburban-style development, home to roughly 18,000 people and a university that enrolls some 10,000 students. It's located about 10 miles east of the Green Line, an armistice line drawn in 1949 that separates Israel from the West Bank, part of the territory on which Palestinians hope to establish a future state.
According to a report in the Israeli financial newspaper Globes, the owner and CEO of McDonald's' Israel franchise chain, Omri Padan, is also one of the founders of the anti-settlement watchdog organization Peace Now and has always had a policy of not operating in the West Bank. Padan's franchises are independent from McDonald's' U.S. corporate headquarters, which does not have a say in his decision to not expand to Ariel.
Some of those angry at the franchise's decision not to open a branch in Ariel urged disgruntled customers to call the local franchise in protest. They posted the phone number of McDonald's Israel on the My Israel Facebook group under an image that read, “McDonald’s I’m not loving it.”
On Thursday, leaders of the settler movement argued that McDonald's had “turned from a business into an organization with an anti-Israel political agenda.”
"We expect Israeli citizens – especially those living in Judea and Samaria – to take this into account before entering any other McDonald’s franchises," said Yigal Delmonti, deputy director of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.
Meanwhile, groups that advocate a boycott on Israeli settlements in the West Bank expressed support for the decision not to open a branch in Ariel.
This is the not the first time that the town of Ariel, established in 1978 by what was then a largely secular Jewish population, has been the focal point of wider controversy over Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
In 2010, 60 prominent Israeli actors announced that they would never perform in a newly built cultural complex in the town. More than 150 Israeli academics and artists later backed their decision.
Late last year, Israel’s parliament decided to include the town’s university on a list of the country’s higher education establishments, despite considerable domestic opposition.
A similar debate is playing out now over the fast-food chain. “The decision by McDonald's not to open a branch in the Ariel mall is an unfortunate decision that discriminates against the residents of the city," Ariel’s mayor, Eliyahu Shaviro, told Hebrew daily Ma'ariv.
In light of the decision, Israel’s homegrown fast-food chain Burger Ranch announced it would open a branch in Ariel instead. On Thursday morning, Finance Minister Naftali Bennett, a former West Bank settlement council leader, announced on his Facebook page that he would be first customer at Burger Ranch when it opens in the town.