By Munir K. Nasser
Arab and Muslim American groups are escalating their campaign against Burger King Corporation for changing course on its plans to close down its franchise branch at the Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in east Jerusalem.
Leaders of the Arab and Muslim American groups are accusing the giant fast food chain of reneging on its commitment and refusing to provide information about any substantive movement to close the disputed franchise.
In a letter to the American Muslims for Jerusalem in Washington on June 12th, the chief executive officer of Burger King Corporation, Dennis Malamatinas, said that the dispute with its Israeli franchisee Rikamor has been referred to international arbitration. He wrote that Burger King and Rikamor “have been unable to reach an agreement and have agreed to refer the matter to international arbitration.” He added that Burger King does not engage in political debates and stressed that both parties have agreed to make no further comments on this “very complex situation”.
Khaled Turaani, Executive Director of American Muslims for Jerusalem told Albawaba.com the letter he received from Burger King was meaningless, adding “quite frankly it was a bit insulting because it did not deal with any of the issues that we brought before them.” He said the burger chain “has decided to cut all lines of communications with us, after they have been responsive in informing us about the progress of their efforts to close the branch in the settlement.”
Turaani noted that in his phone conversations with Burger King, their spokesman refused to comment beyond the statement that the dispute has been referred to international arbitration. The spokesman also refused to reiterate their commitment to close down Burger King in Ma’ale Adumim, which they made in August 1999. Turaani added that his group called off the boycott last August because they felt the corporation seemed to be sincere in their attempt to close down the Burger King branch.
As a result, Turaani said, his group is escalating the campaign and “putting Burger King on alert, hoping they will respond positively, and help us avoid calling for a boycott against them.”
He added that “while we would like to see this matter resolved to our community’s satisfaction, our community will have to do what it feels is right towards the issue of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land, particularly the ring of settlements around Jerusalem.”
In explaining the reasons for Burger King’s change of course, Turaani said there are several possibilities. One is that the Israeli franchise is waiting to ride the wave of the peace negotiations and get away with it. Second, both sides are under pressure from the Israelis not to yield. Thirdly, they are really negotiating with each other and cannot speak about it. Another possibility, according to Turaani, there are attempts to take the franchise from the Israelis and hand it over to a Palestinian entity in the West Bank, because the Palestinians are saying the Ma’ale Adumim settlements is part of the West Bank.
Khalil Jahshan, Vice President of American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee and the American Committee on Jerusalem, feels that Burger King has not been assertive and aggressive as it should in cracking down on its franchisee in Ma’ale Adumim. He told Albawaba.com that the arbitration is being used by the Israeli franchise to extend the process indefinitely. “Burger King is hiding behind this process and refusing to comment on it while in arbitration,” he said. “They re not retracting anything, but they are not being assertive as they should, while the business is open as usual, hoping that the settlement would come part of Israel.”
Jahshan says the concern of the Arab American community about this issue is that there is some political movement, which might be misinterpreted by the Israeli franchisee, to mean that if there is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Ma’ale Adumim is going to be annexed to Jerusalem.
Jahshan believes escalating the campaign against Burger King has served an important function.
“By bringing this issue to the attention of policy makers, and the corporate community in the United States we put some kind of restriction on the flow of investment and corporate support for projects in Jewish settlements,” he noted. He thinks the Burger King controversy served its purpose by dampening the attempt of people in the settlement community there and here in the US who support them to increase American investment there. “Today anybody who is entertaining the idea would have to think twice about it, and now realize that settlements are not necessarily part of Israel,” he explained
As for future plans, Jahshan said there is no specific plan. “We are looking at all options, including steps to renew our public campaign about Burger King,” he said.
He stressed that Arab Americans and Muslim Americans are working in harmony on this issue. “Should we at one point feel that that Burger King is not cooperating, we will look at the available options and take the appropriate steps,” he pointed out – Albawaba.com.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)