Pizza Hut’s franchise in Israel on Monday released an ad poking fun at Palestinian hunger strike leader Marwan Barghouti following the recent release of video footage showing him secretly eating a candy bar and cookies in his prison cell.
The ad drew widespread criticism from Palestinians and a call to boycott the chain, which issued a quick apology.
In the ad, which it posted on its Facebook page and later deleted, 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 are already going to break the hunger strike, isn’t pizza better?”
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.
In response to the ad, a large number of Palestinians called for a boycott of the pizza chain on social media.
הפלס' קוראים לרשת 'פיצה האט' להתנצל ומאיימים בחרם צרכני בגלל שימוש ציני בברוגתי לצורך פירסום pic.twitter.com/VAw3B3PHre
— אוריאל אלישע (@fUAJgSgeE7Nnuc8) May 9, 2017
Pizza Hut issued an apology for the ad on the Facebook account of its franchise in Lebanon.
“Pizza Hut International apologises for any offence caused by a recent post on Pizza Hut Israel’s Facebook page. It was completely inappropriate and does not reflect the values of our brand. The local franchisee in the country removed it immediately and the relationship with the agency that posted it was terminated, and we truly regret any hurt this may have caused,” it said.
In the video, Barghouti, a convicted terrorist serving five life sentences for orchestrating murderous attacks during the Second Intifada, can be seen apparently unwrapping a candy bar in his prison cell and eating it in his toilet stall.
An unnamed IPS official told Channel 2 on Monday that video clips of Barghouti eating were obtained as part of an IPS scheme to induce the hunger strike’s leaders to eat by hiding food in their cells. Most of them, however, resisted the temptation, the official said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan appeared to confirm that the footage of Barghouti was obtained as part of a setup, acknowledging that it was highly unlikely that he could have acquired the food himself while in solitary confinement.
Palestinian supporters of the hunger strike have dismissed the video clips as a fabrication.
Qadora Fares, who heads the Palestinian Prisoners Club advocacy group, cast doubt on the footage, contending that because Barghouti was being held in solitary confinement, he had no access to food.
“This is a fabrication,” Fares said of the footage. “This is psychological warfare that we expected Israel to wage against the strike.”
The prison service spokesperson said that on April 27 Barghouti ate cookies and on Friday he ate a Tortit candy bar — a chocolate-covered, almond-flavored wafer.
According to Palestinian officials, 1,500 inmates have been refusing food since the strike began 22 days ago to protest prison conditions. However, Israeli officials say only some 800 continue to refuse food and have threatened to bring in foreign doctors to force feed the prisoners.
Barghouti is a popular figure in Palestinian society and is seen as a possible successor to Abbas. Some analysts in Israel have pointed to the hunger strike as a bid by Barghouti to show Abbas he still wields political power.
Barghouti was also photographed furtively eating food in his cell during a previous prisoner hunger strike in 2004. Those still shots were taken with a hidden camera through a hole in the wall of his cell.
Judah Ari Gross, Dov Lieber and agencies contributed to this report.