July 15, 2024

Medan, Indonesia – Ade Andrian, operational manager of the Medan branch of the humanitarian organisation Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (MER-C), used to visit McDonald’s at least once a month with his family.

“My favourite order was the family meal,” Andrian told Al Jazeera. “Or if I went to the drive-through, I would always order ice cream.”

But since last month, Andrian has heeded calls across Indonesia to boycott the Golden Arches, along with all Israeli products and goods from Israel’s allies.

“I have not been to McDonald’s since we found out that McDonald’s Israel had been providing assistance and discounts to the Israeli military,” he said. “What is happening here?”

Indonesians began boycotting McDonald’s and other businesses in mid-October after McDonald’s Israel announced on social media that it had handed out thousands of free meals to the Israeli military amid its war with Hamas.

The announcement prompted several Indonesian organisations, including Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), the United People Front (FUB) and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), to call for a boycott of McDonald’s and other businesses perceived to be pro-Israel, including Starbucks and Burger King.

The boycott comes despite McDonald’s Indonesia, which is owned by PT Rekso Nasional Food, last week announcing that it had “deployed humanitarian assistance valued at IDR [Indonesian rupiahs] 1,5 billion [$96,000]” to support Palestinians.

While McDonald’s is synonymous with the United States, most of its restaurants worldwide are locally owned, and franchisees in numerous Muslim countries have expressed support for Palestinians and pledged money to support relief efforts in Gaza.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has long been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and does not have an Israeli embassy.

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Gaza’s Indonesia Hospital was built with donations from Indonesians [File: Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pressed US President Joe Biden to do more to end “atrocities” in Gaza, and the enclave’s Indonesia Hospital was built in 2011 with donations from Indonesians following a funding drive by MER-C.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of Indonesians, including Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi and the former Jakarta governor and presidential hopeful Anies Baswedan, gathered at the National Monument in Jakarta to express solidarity with Palestinians and call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Due to security fears, several McDonald’s and Starbucks branches near the monument were closed on the day of the demonstration.

Last week, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, issued a fatwa making it haram to “support Israeli aggression against Palestine or parties supporting Israel, either directly or indirectly”.

While the extent of public support for the boycotts is unclear, a branch of McDonald’s in Medan that usually does a roaring trade appeared much quieter than usual when visited by Al Jazeera on Tuesday and Thursday.

Staff there told Al Jazeera they had not been experiencing the usual lunchtime and evening rushes and they suspected the boycott calls were to blame.

It is not only McDonald’s that appears to be experiencing a drop off in business.

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The Starbucks at Focal Point Mall in Medan has been nearly deserted in recent weeks, according to one employee [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]

A Starbucks located at Focal Point Mall in Medan, where staff are usually rushed off their feet, has been almost deserted in recent weeks, an employee told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

“We have noticed that it has been much quieter than usual, although we can’t say for sure why that is,” the employee said. “It could be because of a range of factors like the fact that we don’t have any promotions on at the moment. We don’t know, but no customers have asked us about the boycott yet.”

Starbucks, which operates a similar franchise model as McDonald’s, last month criticised its union for posting “Solidarity with Palestine” on social media above an image of a Hamas bulldozer knocking down a fence during the group’s October 7 attacks on Israel. Starbucks Indonesia did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, McDonald’s Corporation, which is based in the US state of Illinois, said that it was “dismayed by the disinformation and inaccurate reports regarding our position in response to the conflict in the Middle East”.

McDonald’s said it does not fund or support any governments involved in the conflict and any actions by local business partners were made independently without the fast food giant’s consent or approval.

“Our hearts are with all of the communities and families impacted by this crisis,” the company said.

“We abhor violence of any kind and firmly stand against hate speech, and we will always proudly open our doors to everyone. We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our people in the region while supporting the communities where we operate.”

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McDonald’s Indonesia says it is “unwavering in its commitment to uphold the values of humanity and wants to take an active role in relief efforts in Gaza” [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]

McDonald’s Indonesia told Al Jazeera in a statement that it was “unwavering in its commitment to uphold the values of humanity and wants to take an active role in relief efforts in Gaza”.

“We at McDonald’s Indonesia hope for a swift achievement of peace so that there will be no more casualties, especially among children and women, as a result of this conflict,” the company said.

For Indonesians like Andrian, though, spending money on brands associated with Israel remains out of the question.

“We need to ask ourselves who businesses are supporting,” he said. “I support the freedom of Palestine and humanitarian assistance to Palestine.”

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