Outstanding Article on Burger King from Major Dutch Newspaper

Outstanding Article on Burger King from Major Dutch Newspaper The following article on Burger King, the West Bank and the protest movement in this country appeared in NRC Handelsblad, one of the most important and respected Dutch newspapers. It is, perhaps, the best article yet on the subject in a major publication. Thanks to Arjan El Fassed for the translation.
Caroline de Gruyter NRC Handelsblad, 10 August 1999
A Burger King restaurant in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank has caused the anger of many Arabs. “Dear Mr.. Malamatinas, I am shocked to hear about the news that Burger King opened a restaurant in the Jewish settlement Ma’ale Adumim on occupied Palestinian land. Until Burger King closes its restaurant in this settlement, I will boycott Burger King restaurants and will inform all my contacts to do the same.” Thousands of people from all over the world received on 29 July, a call to write emails to the CEO of Burger King in Miami.
The call was issued first by Ali Abunimah, a 27-year old Palestinian-American teacher in Chicago. Hundreds put their names under similar letters and mailed it to the email-address of the assistant of Mr.. Malamatinas. Whoever has something to do with the Arab world, often gets similar calls: actions against demolitions of Palestinian homes, actions for the release of political prisoners, who are held without due process, or against the American Congress which considers to recognize occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Usually, such cyber-actions by the younger generation Arab Americans remain quiet, but the action opposing the restaurant which hamburger giant Burger King – the place where hamburgers are called ‘whopper’- opened late May in the Jewish settlement Ma’ale Adumim has got a stormy character.
On August 6, ten large American Muslim organizations, who represent a significant part of the six million Muslims in America (not only Arab, but also black Americans), demanded that Burger King should close the new restaurant in the settlement and donate money to Muslim refugees. Through email they called thousands of people who are connected through mailing lists to boycott the company as long as their demands were not complied with.
Sunday, the Arab League in Cairo took over their demands, after which the newspapers in the Arab world, paid attention to the issue. For Burger King, who owns 82 restaurants in Arab and Islamic countries, where hamburgers gain popularity, this was a signal to start a ‘dialogue’ with the ten Muslim organizations.
“It is unbelievable how much response this action got”, says Ali Abunimah, who send the first message about Burger King at the end of July to three hundred persons. “I put a great number of messages and protest-letters on the net, and often nothing happens with it” says Abunimah. “When you ask people to protest against Israeli bulldozers, they have a feeling of powerlessness. The Israeli army does not listen. Everyone can boycott Burger King. This gives a powerful feeling. This also appeals to Americans from non-Arab origin: a restaurant on confiscated Arab land where only Jews are allowed to come, makes people think of Woolworth’s which did not allow blacks in 1959. The Woolworth’s-protest of that time developed into the Civil Rights Movement”.
The campaign against Burger King is based on two arguments. The first is that the settlement in the West Bank is build on confiscated Palestinian territory – a violation of international law and which has not been recognized by any country in the world. By investing in a settlement, Burger King also violates international law. The second complaint is that Burger King practices apartheid: a Jewish settlement is only meant for Jews. The emails are focused on this. An activists says: “Apartheid is something what Americans understand easier than something abstract like “violating international law”: imagine that you are not allowed to enter a restaurant because you are Hindu or Black!”
For years, Abunimah and other younger Arab Americans are trying to campaign in a more “American” way than their fathers did, hoping to finally get more influence on American politicians. By walking with banners like “Shamir, Murderer” across Dupont Circle, the older generation caused rather irritation or pity than understanding. The younger generation, just like the powerful Jewish lobby, try to make contact with Capital Hill and appeal on the internet to American norms and values. With one click they reach almost for free thousands of people, instead of paying thousands of dollars to snowball by telephone as their political active fathers did.
This approach seems to start reaping the fruits. Last year ice cream producer Ben & Jerry’s was forced through a cyber-action to cancel a contract with an Israeli water company on the occupied Golan Heights – using “stolen Syrian water”, said the critics, was at right angles to the peaceful slogans of the company. Also in 1998, Nike had to remove a logo from a new sports shoe because it looked like “Allah”, the Arabic word for God. Back down due to desecration was better than risking that millions of Muslims stopped buying its shoes.
It seems that Burger King didn’t realize that opening a restaurant in a Jewish settlement would be so controversial. First, the British restaurant-chain in Miami put the responsibility in the hands of its Israeli franchise Rikamor. When the storm increased last week, the company declared that it “respects all nationalities, religions, and cultures”, and would give them all “chances to consume their products where ever they might live. Burger King did not mean to debate politics.”
This meant oil on the fire. The number of emails about Burger King’s apartheid increased: Burger King’s fax number was exchanged on the Freedom-mailing list, letters were send to CNN and CBS, friends and contacts from Malaysia to the Gulf were called upon to go to McDonald’s (whose manager said that he would rather resign than open a restaurant in a Jewish settlement). A Professor in Economics wrote to Malamatinas that he would use Burger King as an example (of how thing should not be done) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Also Hussein Ibish from the lobby group ADC in Washington said that Burger King cannot make a political sensitive step “and then say: it has nothing to do with politics!”
This, Burger King, now seems to realize. “We take the Muslim organizations serious”, says Burger King spokesperson Kim Miller in Miami. “We are concerned”. The talk with the Muslim organizations cannot be else than about politics. Whether the company could convince its opponents with Millers argument that Burger King does not violate international law because the Jewish settlement Ma’ale Adumim is “located in C-area, which according to the Oslo Accords belongs to Israel”, is doubtful. Actually, according to the Oslo Agreements, a part of zone C would be transferred eventually to the Palestinians. Negotiations about this might resume soon. It seems that the younger Muslim and Arab-American cyber-lobbyists are standing stronger than their opponents at whopper.com. (Translated by Arjan El Fassed).

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