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McDonald's-Israel.png EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images
Israel has many McDonald's locations throughout the country.

McDonald’s franchisees and Starbucks union stir controversy with public stances on Israel and Hamas conflict

The restaurant industry has largely remained silent on the war, though Starbucks’ union posted a pro-Palestine message and McDonald’s Middle Eastern franchisees have split their allegiances

In the aftermath of the latest escalations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Hamas’ attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent retaliations in Gaza over the past week and a half, many American corporations have been hesitant to make public statements, including most of the restaurant industry. However, both the Starbucks union and multiple Middle Eastern McDonald’s franchisees have expressed firm stances on the conflict, which led to social media boycotts on both sides.

During other times of international strife on a global stage, like the Russian attacks on Ukraine last year, or more homegrown conflicts, like the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests during the summer of 2020, restaurant companies were more confident in expressing support for victims and condemning wrongdoers. However, many of these same companies — several of whom have a strong presence in the Middle East — have largely remained silent or declined to comment over the past couple of weeks. Both Papa Johns and Yum Brands’ representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the violence in Israel and Gaza, while representatives for Domino’s and CKE declined to comment.

One of the few foodservice brands that did speak up following the attacks on Israel is Starbucks, which released a statement last Wednesday, expressing the brand’s “deepest sympathy” for the victims of “the heinous acts of terror, escalating violence and hate against the innocent in Israel and Gaza.” In a fairly neutral statement that did not directly address the conflict itself, Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan added, “let us remember that our strength lies in our ability to support one another with empathy and understanding, irrespective of our backgrounds and experiences.” The statement then went on to list various resources available to employees, including mental health services, and a charitable “giving match opportunity for eligible partners” in the U.S. and Canada who want to support relief efforts.

On the same day, multiple news outlets reported that the Starbucks union, Starbucks Workers United, posted a “Solidarity with Palestine” image on the social media site X with a photo of a bulldozer operated by Hamas tearing down a fence in Gaza. The post, which has since been deleted, was later condemned by Starbucks, which posted a comment in opposition to its union’s stance following a call for the boycott of Starbucks on social media. Starbucks released a comment on Friday distancing itself from its employees’ union, stating that the company is “deeply troubled” by Workers United’s “spread of misinformation” on social media:

“We unequivocally condemn these acts of terrorism, hate and violence, and disagree with the statements and views expressed by Workers United and its members,” the company’s statement reads. “Workers United’s words and actions belong to them, and them alone.”

The Service Employees International Union, which is affiliated with Workers United, meanwhile, posted a less controversial stance, condemning hatred and violence throughout the region:

Starbucks is not the only company that is dealing with its associates’ clashing stances on this escalated conflict between Israel and Palestine. On Friday, McDonald’s Israel (a licensee of McDonald’s) announced that it would be shipping 4,000 meals to Israeli soldiers daily and offering a 50% discount to Israeli soldiers.

Meanwhile, other McDonald’s franchisees and licensees in the Middle East have spoken out in support of Gazans and Palestinians, including McDonald’s Oman, McDonald’s Kuwait,  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, and Pakistan. These companies released almost identical statements condemning McDonald’s Israel’s support of the Israeli military and have donated funds in support of Palestine and the victims in Gaza.

Although McDonald’s corporation did not respond to the actions of their franchisees and licensees on both sides, the similar statements released by multiple Middle Eastern countries in support of Palestine clarified that “McDonald’s never interferes in politics and always adheres to absolute neutrality…any individual decision or action of one of its licensees in any country is not considered a representation of it.”  

Given the incendiary social media response to stances firmly on one side or the other of the escalated Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it makes sense that corporations are hesitant to post a statement and risk alienating any significant portion of their customers. Very few companies feel comfortable in provoking conflict, unless political stances are naturally a part of their brand, like Ben & Jerry’s, which ended sales of its ice cream in occupied Palestinian territory last year in protest of Israel’s policies. Therefore for now, silence seems the safest option for much of corporate America in response to the ongoing war. 

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

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