Wednesday April 23rd 2014

Activists Organizing Against McDonald’s at Masada

by Sagit Levi

The visitor’s center at Masada, the ancient desert fortress famed for the last stand of Jewish freedom fighters against Roman imperialism, has ironically opened a franchise of the McDonalds global food chain.

After the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in the year 70, effectively putting an end to the Great Jewish Revolt, a band of die-hard guerrillas from the Sicarii zealot sect held out at the Masada fortress near the Dead Sea for three years as the last bastion of Jewish independence.

When the Roman Tenth Legion laid siege to the fortress and were on the verge of breaking through Masada’s defenses, the defiant rebel fighters and their families resolved to take their own lives rather than be enslaved by their enemies. The act inspired awe in the Roman soldiers and echoed through history, serving as a major source of inspiration for later Jewish insurgents fighting to liberate Mandate Palestine from the British Empire during the 1940s.

As Masada serves as a national symbol of Jewish resistance to foreign imperialism in all its forms, the selection of the site for a McDonald’s franchise is being viewed as especially offensive to several groups.

Israelis from all walks of life have expressed outrage at what they are calling “an insult to our national history” and a grassroots resistance movement comprised of hard-core Zionists and anti-globalization activists is brewing. A facebook boycott page has also been gaining momentum as cyber-activists hope to garner support to oppose the global food chain’s presence at the historic site.

McDonald’s, which opened in Israel in 1993 and currently boasts over 130 branches, operates throughout the country under the local stewardship of Omri Padan, a veteran anti-Zionist figure and founder of the European-backed Peace Now organization.

The existence of McDonald’s and other foreign corporations in Israel has been a controversial issue since the early 1990s. Many Israelis strongly disapprove of having massive foreign chains in the country in general, as they pose a threat to smaller businesses and represent an encroachment of global capitalism in the country.

Many also view McDonald’s specifically as a slap in the face to Jewish societal norms and a Western infringement on local culture. Despite having a few token kosher restaurants, McDonald’s has insisted on opening the vast majority as not kosher and specifically fought to keep the flagship location in Jerusalem not kosher.

Leading anti-globalization activist Benny Katz of the Semitic Action movement identifies the explosion of foreign chains in Israel during the early 1990s as part of the rampant westernization that accompanied the Oslo Accords.

According to Katz, this trend also included the introduction of cable television into Israel, the diluting of Zionist values in public schools and the sudden availability of American products in Israeli stores. Chains like McDonald’s were, according to Katz,  part of a larger corporate assault on Israeli culture that eroded Zionist values and the State of Israel’s unique Jewish character.

“McDonald’s was always part of a larger attack on our values and national culture,” said Katz. “But the fact that they’re now opening up at Masada, one of the most sacred sites of Jewish heroism and a national symbol of resistance to foreign imperialism, shows that the forces of global capitalism are taking the fight to the heart of the Zionist narrative.”

“I know that because of all the serious challenges we face, a lot of activists have trouble taking these smaller fights seriously. But we need to raise awareness that the Zionist struggle exists on multiple fronts. Unless we want to wake up next year to see a McDonald’s in the Old City of Jerusalem, we need to start organizing now to shut down the Masada location.”