McDonald's whets Israeli political appetites

Shay Niv

Sabbath observance, kashrut and unionization are among ingredients in the row over McDonald's led by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

The feud between Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman and McDonald's did not begin at this week's cardiology conference in Tel Aviv, at which he said, "McDonald's? Not in our country."

Two weeks ago, Omri Padan, the McDonald's franchise holder in Israel, became angry when he heard Litzman say at a conference on the national diabetes program that McDonald's should be closed down. He hurried to schedule a meeting with Ministry of Health officials, a meeting that took place last week.

He presented to the officials what McDonald's calls "The 10-step McDonald's health revolution:" 100% unprocessed beef grilled on coals, the use of canola oil, less fat in dressings, 100 grams of vegetables in most meals, voluntary marking of the nutritional value, reduced salt content, etc.

The presentation was impressive, but apparently left Litzman unmoved. Actually, as a seasoned veteran politician, Litzman realized that the McDonald's pressure is playing right into the hands of the campaign led by him and his ministry, just like the pressure from the cellular companies before the Ministry of Communications' reform played into then-Minister of Communications Moshe Kahlon's hands. Everyone wanted to be a Kahlon at that time; now, everyone wants to be a Litzman. In McDonaldese, Padan made Litzman's meal bigger, but Litzman was still hungry.

McDonald's response, which hinted that Litzman might be attacking the chain because it operated on the Sabbath, is nothing but spin designed to deflect the discussion of fast food by painting Litzman as the enemy of secularism and free choice. Even though this is nothing but transparent spin, however, it has already achieved partial success. The news websites and the social networks are full of discussions about the Sabbath, secular versus haredim (ultra-Orthdox Jews), and not only on the secular side.

For example, here is a headline from one haredi website for a profile of Omri Padan: "A pioneer of non-kosher food, Sabbath desecration, and the extreme left." Ordinarily, McDonald's could have won a warm embrace from the secular public by portraying itself as a victim. In recent years, however, the chain has made a serious misstep that it is surely now regretting: it stubbornly and publicly opposed unionization of its workers when they tried to set up a workers' committee.

Every major employer knows that in dealing with regulatory problems, nothing is as effective as its workers. Recently, however, employers have learned something else, too: when you fight your workers, you lose them, and a lot more, too.

McDonald's and fast food are a fairly minor health problem, especially when children are involved not because it is healthy, but because in most cases, people do not eat at McDonald's every day, and not even close to every day. The real hazard is the food served to children every day at lunch under the sponsorship of the state and the local authorities. You won't hear Litzman garnering headlines on that subject, perhaps because there is no scapegoat for him to point a finger at. The circular distributed 10 days ago by the Ministry of Education, which has attracted a lot of attention, concerns the food sold at snack bars and cafeterias, not what is supplied by providers of afternoon daycare. Your children will go on eating processed meat afloat in oil, while Litzman and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett go on grinning about their revolution. Dear ministers, you are moving in the right direction, but the revolution will get underway only when you start the cleanup at home.

Commercially, the real threat is now being aimed at the soft drink companies, headed by the Central Bottling Company (Coca Cola Israel). Like McDonald's, Coca Cola Israel has already met with senior Ministry of Health officials following the campaign against sweetened beverages. Actually, this meeting took place only one day after the campaign went on the air, which again shows the power of this Moshe Wertheim-owned company.

It can be assumed that Wertheim, who among other things holds a controlling interest in Channel 2 franchise holder Keshet, did not enjoy seeing the public being told one minute before the news was broadcast how many spoonfuls of sugar there are in a sweetened beverage. The Ministry of Health believes that the most effective revolution is in awareness, and is now doing everything it can to influence this awareness. When they get done with the sugar in beverages, they will start preaching about salt.

There will also be some real action taking place. The Ministry of Health plans to wage this campaign on all fronts: regulation, advertising, shelf space in supermarkets, and real changes in the elements and dosages of food. When this happens, Padan will not be the only one making a beeline to the Ministry of Health. My guess is that the big lobbyists have some really long hours in store for them.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 14, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

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