Israel's religious parties, newly empowered by their best-ever showing in parliamentary elections, took aim Sunday at the fast-food burger joints and their non-kosher menus.
"We must turn this (election) upheaval into an upheaval of values," said Haim Miller, an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem city lawmaker. "They may have their clientele, but I won't have McDonald's open non-kosher outlets in Jerusalem."Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocates a harder line with the Palestinians, narrowly edged Prime Minister Shimon Peres in last week's election but the real victors were religious parties whose representation in parliament jumped from 16 to 23 seats. Netanyahu needs their support to rule.
Secular Israelis went on the defensive as the pious lobbied to enshrine religious law in legislation.
"I would suggest that no one even thinks of closing McDonald's or Burger King in this city," Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo, who is from Netanyahu's Likud Party, told Israel TV. "What is operating here will continue to operate here, even on Friday or the Sabbath."
Each side insisted on maintaining what they call "the status quo" in Israel - the unofficial relations between secular and religious - with each having its own interpretation of what that meant.
"There will be no touching the status quo, which I believe includes much culture and art and nightlife," Milo said.
Rabbi Avraham Ravitz argued that the status quo had been eroded in recent years. "Nightlife, nightclubs, this is not the culture of our fathers," he said.
Once, the "status quo" referred to an unwritten set of principles that varied from city to city. In Jerusalem, cinemas, nightclubs and theaters were shut down over the Sabbath, and only a limited number of restaurants were permitted to open.
But in 1989, a cinema owner challenged the "status quo" in court and won. That opened the floodgates for others to open over the Sabbath.
The 1989 decision was made when Likud was in power. But when the more pronouncedly secular Labor won power in 1992 and then split with its only religious coalition partner in 1993, the unprecedented happened: for the first time in Israeli history, the religious were out of power.
That government, said National Religious Party leader Zevulun Hammer, controlled just 61 out of the parliament's 120 seats. "It said with 61 votes I can do what I want and oppress another part of the public."
Several cases concerning the status of Reform Jews reached the Supreme Court during the Labor government. The court ruled that Reform conversions should be recognized, among other things.
That was anathema to the Orthodox, who revile the reform as representing the worst excesses of Western liberalism.
Ravitz said he saw the decisions as necessitating legislative change.
In Jerusalem, which has a large religious community, an increasing number of non-Kosher restaurants have been established. But the highest-profile change probably came when McDonald's opened a two-story non-kosher restaurant in central Jerusalem, sparking religious demonstrations.
"Jerusalem has a character, the holy city," Miller told Israel radio. "It's not like Rome or Paris - or other cities in this country which have unfortunately opened" non-kosher restaurants.
"Let them make kosher hamburgers," he suggested. McDonald's uses kosher beef, but makes cheeseburgers. Mixing milk and meat is against Jewish religious law.
Forget it, said McDonald's general manager for Israel, Omri Padan.
"I'll open a kosher restaurant in Jerusalem," he offered. But he would not close the non-kosher branch. "According to the existing laws, they can't close us."
In any case, Padan said, he was not worried the new government would change the laws.
"Its test will be a peace agreement with Syria," he told Israel Radio. "Not hamburgers vs. cheeseburgers "