MCDONALD'S NEAR WAR MEMORIAL CAUSES CONTROVERSY AMONG ISRAELIS

MCDONALD'S NEAR WAR MEMORIAL CAUSES CONTROVERSY AMONG ISRAELIS

McDonald's golden arches have cast a giant shadow over a memorial to Israeli war dead.

A vocal group of Israelis is fed up at the sight of an American hamburger restaurant so close to the shrine honoring 1,400 Golani brigade soldiers killed in Israel's wars."It takes away from the importance of the memorial," said Tzippy Oppenheimer, who lives near the fast-food franchise at Golani junction - an

intersection named after the brigade that captured it in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

"It's going to turn into McDonald's junction instead of Golani junction," she said.

Sporadic protests and political lobbying by a group of local residents opposed to the restaurant have done little to spoil the appetites of the restaurant's best customers - young Israeli conscripts with a gun in one hand and a Big Mac in the other.

"Is there a memorial here? I didn't know that," said one soldier sipping a shake.

Michael Foa, a leader of local efforts to move the food giant, said it is a battle for the heart and soul of the Jewish state.

"I think this is part of the big cultural struggle in this country between conflicting visions of where Israel should go," Mr. Foa told Reuters.

"Are we going to be a country based on American symbols, or do we have our own homegrown culture here?"

It looks like the two - McDonald's, with its arches, and the memorial, a narrow stone pyramid and a separate section of wooden boards planted in the ground with the names of the fallen soldiers - will have to coexist.

McDonald's says it has served 7 million customers in Israel since opening its first branch in the country in October 1993. Israel has a population of about 5.5 million.

"The memorial is important, but I don't see any problem having a McDonald's here," one soldier said, as other troops mingled near a brightly colored statue of Ronald McDonald, the chain's clown mascot. "It's just like putting up any other restaurant."

Before McDonald's built its red-brick outlet at the junction, a few miles west of the Sea of Galilee, vendors sold food from vans.

The franchise's representative in Israel, Omri Padan, has agreed to remove one of the restaurant's huge signs. He also said he helped to pay for a sign that makes the memorial more noticeable.

"There are good things in America that we should adopt, and there are bad things in America that we shouldn't adopt," said Mr. Padan, who in the late 1970s helped found Israel's main peace group, Peace Now, which advocates giving back land to Arab neighbors in exchange for peace.

"The world is striding towards complete openness between countries, and I think the American link is excellent," he said.

Mr. Foa said he saw a connection between Mr. Padan's political background and his role in "importing American culture."

"I wouldn't want to make this sound like a personal matter, but the McDonald's issue in a large degree reflects the bigger political struggle in this country between right and left over the Land of Israel," he said.

The Land of Israel is a biblical reference generally used to support Israel's religious claim to the West Bank and Gaza, which the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Some of the opposition to the restaurant arises from its sale of non- kosher food, including cheeseburgers.

A kosher sandwich machine stands nearby, offering religious customers and visitors to the war memorial an alternative fare.

Mr. Padan rejected a demand by activists to have the restaurant drop the cheeseburger and other items from its menu to conform with strict Jewish dietary laws that forbid mixing meat with milk products.

He said the branch's target customers were not religious.