Pizza Hut has apologized and fired an advertising firm responsible for an Israeli Facebook ad that mocked the imprisoned terrorist who is leading a mass Palestinian hunger strike for apparently sneaking food.
The ad on Pizza Hut Israel’s Facebook page was deleted, and the parent company said in a statement that the post was “completely inappropriate.”
The ad attempted to make light of footage that was released by Israeli authorities earlier this week appearing to show Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned leader of the 24-day-old hunger strike, eating a candy bar and other food in his cell.
In the ad, the pizza chain put a banner in Hebrew over a screenshot from a clip released by the Israel Prisons Service on Sunday of Barghouti eating. It read, “Barghouti, if you’re going to break the hunger strike, isn’t pizza better?”
הפלס' קוראים לרשת 'פיצה האט' להתנצל ומאיימים בחרם צרכני בגלל שימוש ציני בברוגתי לצורך פירסום pic.twitter.com/VAw3B3PHre
— אוריאלישע (@fUAJgSgeE7Nnuc8) May 9, 2017
The ad also included a photoshopped Pizza Hut box on the floor of the prison cell, as well as a piece of pizza in the sink.
Palestinians claim the footage of Barghouti eating is fake and that in releasing it, Israel was trying to harm the morale of the prisoners. In response to the ad, a large number of Palestinians called for a boycott of the pizza chain on social media.
Barghouti, 58, is serving five life terms for murder after an Israeli civilian court convicted him of directing deadly terror attacks during the Second Intifada. Barghouti, in prison since 2002, never mounted a defense, saying the court had no jurisdiction over him.
He was moved to solitary confinement last month for initiating the hunger strike, which started on April 17.
The prisoners are demanding better conditions, including more family visits.
According to Palestinian officials, 1,500 inmates have been refusing food since the strike began, but Israeli officials say only some 800 continue to refuse food and have threatened to bring in foreign doctors to force feed the prisoners.
In a statement released by Pizza Hut International’s Middle East Twitter account on Tuesday, the company said it apologized for any offense and said the ad “does not reflect the values of our brand.” A spokesman for Pizza Hut’s parent company in the US, Yum! Brands Inc., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Erez Rubenstein, a partner at the Israeli advertising company behind the ad, confirmed his firm had been dismissed and said the Facebook post was regrettable in hindsight. “We didn’t mean to offend anybody,” he said.
The fate of prisoners is an emotional issue for Palestinians. During decades of conflict, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons for offenses ranging from deadly attacks to stone throwing.
Pizza Hut International’s statement came in response to a Twitter campaign to boycott the company, which operates in Israel, the West Bank and around the Arab world. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Media Committee called off its boycott of Pizza Hut after accepting the apology.
Meanwhile, Barghouti’s lawyer, Khader Shkirat, said the Israel Prisons Service abruptly canceled a planned prison meeting with his client that had been scheduled for Thursday. Shkirat was later informed he would be able to see Barghouti on Sunday.
The attorney said he was given no explanation. He said he is increasingly concerned about Barghouti, who has been held in isolation since the start of the hunger strike.
“We want to know exactly what his health situation is,” Shkirat said. “The fact that the Israelis are not allowing anybody to visit him makes us more worried.”
Assaf Librati, a spokesman for the Prisons Service, confirmed the visit had been canceled, but said he did not know the reason.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited Barghouti on Thursday for the first time since the strike began. An ICRC spokesman was unable to provide an update on his health “in accordance with the principles of medical confidentiality.” The ICRC has also been allowed access to other prisoners on hunger strike.
Barghouti is a popular figure in Palestinian society and is seen as a possible successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Some analysts in Israel see the hunger strike as a bid by Barghouti to show Abbas he still wields political power.