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How Zionist is Starbucks?

Starbucks has become a worldwide cause célèbre for protestors who object to its globalised ubiquity. But in Lebanon Starbucks has been the focus of protests for other reasons entirely. The coffee chain has, especially since the conflict in Gaza, been singled out by anti-Israeli activists for protests which have seen gruesome posters waved, Stars of David taped to the windows and sometimes the café itself shut for the day.  The Starbucks in Beirut’s Hamra district, near several universities, has been targeted often, most recently last week.

So, do the protestors have a point? Of all the international companies in Lebanon, Starbucks has come in for the most flak recently. Do the protestors have a legitimate grievance with a company that gives money to a country with which Lebanon is at war? Or are they picking on an easy target, already unpopular with left-leaning, anti-globalisation types? Answering this question reveals Zionist links to the company’s founder, a grey area between the the company and its CEO and many unverified rumors.

What exactly is the protestors’ problem with Starbucks? “It is the funds that they send to the Zionist state,” says Bahaa Al Kayyali, a 21 year-old political science student at AUB involved with the grassroots Lebanese Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel. “And the support of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF),” he goes on, adding that, “most of the people who protest outside Starbucks believe it gives money to the Israeli state, and IDF, for sure.”

However, Starbucks denies this, outright. Its ‘Facts about Starbucks in the Middle East’ section on its website denies providing financial support to the Israeli government and the IDF, although support to Israeli charities is not specifically denied.

But there are protestors who, even if they do not accuse the company of funding Israel directly, have a grievance with the company through its director. “Our boycott is in general, not only to Starbucks, in general to the companies we find out are in a direct or indirect way supporting the state of Israel…Starbucks itself because the director and co-owner Howard Schultz [is] a known Zionist and open speaker in support of the state of Israel” says Arabi Al-Andari, a member of the Union of Lebanese Democratic Youth, who have protested Starbucks recently, since 1997.

Howard Schultz, the Jewish 55-year-old founder and CEO of Starbucks, has been called a Zionist by protest groups and boycott campaigns in Lebanon and globally. As with many ideological battles, the internet has been a breeding ground for debate and accusations on both sides. It can be difficult to tell justifiable grievance from fabrication.

A fake letter that first appeared on anti-Israeli website Ziopedia in July 2006, in which Schultz thanks Starbucks customers without whom he “wouldn’t be able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars each year to protect Israeli citizens from terrorist attacks and keep reminding every Jew in America, to defend Israel at any cost,” is often quoted. In the first month the letter went up, it was read by over 100,000 people on the Ziopedia site alone. 

But the letter was widely misunderstood; it had been written as a satirical piece by Ziopedia editor Andrew Winkler. “However all the statements I made in that letter about donations, sponsorships, political views etc. – are based on factual Howard Schultz actions and quotes as a half hour of ‘Googling’ will easily confirm to anyone interested,” said a note added later by Winkler.

But although Googling turns up many reasons to boycott the company, few are verifiable.  The Innovative Minds website’s ‘Boycott Israel Campaign’ asserts that Starbucks sponsored the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem’s annual ‘Bowl 4 Israel’ fundraiser in 2002 and 2003. But the Committee maintains no ‘Bowl 4 Israel’ events were held in those years. 

There is controversy, too, over whether the Jerusalem Fund of Aish Ha-Torah awarded Schultz the “Israeli 50th Anniversary  ‘Friend of Zion’ Tribute Award” in 1998, and although Schultz has written an article on the official Aish Ha-Torah website, no mention is made of the award. Some claim that the award used to be posted on the Starbucks website under the ‘Awards and Accolades’ section, but was subsequently removed when a wave of boycotts began around the year 2000.

Statements have disappeared from the website before, according to Bahaa Al Kayyali, who says that Schultz made donations to the charity the Jewish National Fund, and that this used to be posted on the website. “I’ve seen it myself, a lot of people did, even the professors that started the boycott campaign. Like two years ago when Starbucks got affected a lot in the Middle East, they took off all the posts and articles about sending donations to Israel,” said Al Kayyali.

Starbucks’ stance is that Schultz’s actions are not representative of corporate policy. In 2002 Schultz gave a speech at the Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Seattle that ignited criticism. Controversy was created by forceful statements, like, “the rise of anti-Semitism is at an all-time high since the 1930s. If you leave the synagogue tonight and go back to your home and ignore this then shame on us. Take a stand, please!”

Starbucks’ official response was to distance the corporation, releasing a statement that he was “speaking as a private citizen and did not interview with the media regarding this subject.”

Schultz later issued another statement claiming the speech was misinterpreted and he is not anti-Palestinian.  But the distinction between Schultz personally and the Starbucks corporation is not accepted by Lebanon’s protestors. “He lives off the profits of Starbucks this guy, so if it’s his personal money, this is still a case against Starbucks, because all the money he gains is from the profit of Starbucks. All his personal money is from Starbucks after all,” said Al Kayyali. Starbucks is in fact locally franchised, and only a percentage of the profits from the Middle Eastern branches go to the main corporation. But protestors say that their boycott is not harming the Lebanese economy, as the company does not buy any Lebanese raw materials for the cafes or the coffees.

According to Dr. Samah Idriss, academic and key figure in the boycott campaign, Starbucks was put on the campaign’s blacklist after announcing plans in 2002 to spend $15 million opening 80 outlets in Israel.  But in 2003 all the opened locales in Israel were shut. Starbucks cites “operational challenges” while Idriss believes it was the boycotts and protests in the Middle East. Regardless of the cause, the shut down has meant a revision for the boycott.  “Starbucks is no longer in Tel Aviv, they do not invest in Israel, they do not have employees there so…we are now updating the information,” says Idriss.

But this revision is not likely to remove Starbucks from the Lebanese activist limelight. The perception that Schultz is a Zionist means that the cafes’ familiar green logo is the most visible purportedly Israeli-affiliated symbol on the streets of Beirut. Is boycotting it the most effective way of targeting Zionism? Well, it gets the protestors’ picture in the media, and maybe that’s the idea. Is Starbucks the fairest target? Maybe not, but as long as anger seeks easy answers, the finer points of responsibility will pass protestors frustrated with Israel.

  • Semra

    İf someone has Israel Passport, or if someone's passport has israel approval, who do not allow enter to lebanon. İt is ridicolus, because of Israel's products enter to Lebanon. Think what this meaning is.

    April 21, 2009

  • Alen

    Starbucks is the best coffee shop ever. rumors are worthless..

    April 18, 2009

  • Alain

    For the sake of every palestinian child every MORAL person has the duty to avoid israeli products or products produced by companies linked to israel. TO SAMI . since u obviously cannot comprehend the meaning of the boycott here's another exapmle. perhaps americans should stop using paper because its chinese? or maybe jews should have stopped reading newspapers in WW2 since the printing press was invented in germany??.

    April 18, 2009

  • David Guy

    Perhaps Starbucks should open branches in the Dikwaneh & Nabatieh camps? When Lebanon allows Palestinians to become Lebanese citizens or at least have the most basic rights of citizens to work in any profession; to buy and sell land and live where they want; to study in higher education institutions based on equal admission criteria and to receive social security, then I will take symbolic protests like this more seriously.

    April 17, 2009

  • Cedars

    We're definetly missing education in Lebanon. People like sami and his boss hassan are trying to turn Lebanon into wilayet al fakih. I bet you next, our women will have to cover their faces.

    April 12, 2009

  • Sami

    SG, Starbucks employees do not own the company, yet some may buy few shares here and these as other non employees may do.The fact that someone buys few shares in any company does not by any means force him/her to agree to its political affiliations.Starbucks imports everything from the USA and does not contribute much to Lebanese economy. Starbucks did not help Lebanon with its $45 billion dept, nor its disappearance will make a dent in its economy.We need to keep our principle in dealing with anti Lebanese companies whether company owned or Zionist owned.

    April 3, 2009

  • Sami

    continued..." am hoping that Sam will not erase Chemistry and algebra from the annals of science because he disagrees with the Arabs.

    April 1, 2009

  • kamal

    I have a comment fawaz , Fisrt of all i would like to say that i am a very pround lebanese but i live in canada. All i want to say is that i know this sounds bad but its the sad truth is that jews stick togetehr where ever they go, even they live 1000's of miles from isreal they still find a way to support each other, Arabs on the other hand do not, i wish that was not the case but its the honest truth , even in our own countries we have conflicts between each other, i think first we have to look after our own counrty before we go out looking for things to protest about that dont even pertain to our well being. Arabs must help each other out but we must stop the hate and wars amoung ourselves first

    March 31, 2009

  • Sami

    A response to the comment made by Sami(not mine):Equating Starbucks political alliances with scientific discoveries made by Jewish or,even, Israeli, scientists is an attempt to misguide as well as misinform the reader.What scientific invention did Starbuck and its political alliances introduce to the world?I am hoping that Sami is not telling us that Starbucks invented the hot water.No one is denying the Jewish communities contribution to science,but our objections are based on the support afforded to an occupying/racist entity that constantly murder and humiliate the Palestinians .Boycotting a product or a country is not a Lebanese invention;The USA and the world at large boycotted South Africa , although it produced the first doctor to invent a successful heart transplant,when it practiced apartheid.The West boycotts Cuban products and Iranian pistachio and Persian rugs.I am hoping that Sam will not erase Chemistry and algebra from the annals of science because he disagrees with th

    March 30, 2009

  • S G

    When I used to live in Beirut, I had a friend who used to work at the Starbucks in Hamra. If I'm not mistaken, each store is run as a joint franchise partnership partly owned by the employees. Every employee of Starbucks owns a share in the company – this includes the many Lebanese employees they have. My personal view of all these ridiculous “boycotting” activities is that they are nothing more but political moves organized by an unemployed group of socialist leaning 20 something’s. What are we going to do, boycott every organization that operates in Israel? That's ridiculous... Take INTEL and Toshiba for example, both have huge operations in Lebanon and have donated vast sums to local charities (INTEL's CEO is of Lebanese origin I think)... What are we going to do? Stop using PC's? These protestors should spend more time thinking what good they can do for Lebanon (by opening businesses, pressuring politicians, fighting corruption, calling for peace, etc) rather than causing disruptio

    March 27, 2009

  • Sami

    "Starbucks’ official response was to distance the corporation, releasing a statement that he was “speaking as a private citizen and did not interview with the media regarding this subject.” Ahmadinajad also speaks as a private citizen when he calls for the destruction of Israel.

    March 27, 2009

  • DayN

    These rich hippy retards think they're helping Palestinians ... when was the last time one of them went into a Palestinian refugee camp and tutored a kid or bettered someone's life? They wreak havoc on LEBANESE business people with their pack mentalities because they're bored with their privileged upbringings all the while knowing absolutely nothing about the structure of franchises. Should I point out the fact that motorola, the first cell phone, was developed in Israel? and yet I don't see any of these morons giving up their precious zionist cell phones! Parents need to reign in bored children before they do any damage to people's private properties ... and these children need to be enrolled in hobbies. They need to realize that these businesses are working to give THEM and others their age a future ... but it's easy for them because after they graduate, they'll hop on a plane and flee leaving some other poor kid who's parents couldn't afford to send him to college to deal with a

    March 27, 2009

  • essam

    find out how much is Qatar 'DIRECT' investment in Israeli based companies...yes, Qatar , The Banker to Hamas,Hizbo..the two groups that want to liberate the occupied Lebanese & Palestinian land..p.s I don't use Starbucks.

    March 26, 2009

  • Sami

    If these persons wants to be coherent with themselves, they fist have to stop using the benefit of molecukar biology (since Francois Jacob, Nobel Prize 1985 was one of the founding father), they should stop using the dicoveries produced by André Michel Lwoff (Nobel Prize 1965) on how viruses infect bacteria, they should not be using anhestaesic if unfortunately for them they have to undertake eye surgery (Karl Koller discovery). They should stop studying physics since without Eisnstein discoveries and Pauli discoveries (Nober Prize 1945) the whole world of physics would have remained as it was 400 years ago. They should not be using any knowledge on the structure of DNA as MAx Perutz (Nobel Prize 1962) contributed to this discovery.The should not use IRM as magnetic resonance was discovered by Isidor Isaac RAbi (Nober Prize 1944). They should not be using paper chromatography as its inventor is Richard Willst!atter.(Nobel Prize 1915). They should stop regulating their cholesterol as t

    March 26, 2009

  • Fawaz Bassim

    I will continue enjoying my coffee from starbucks; if we want to stop buying products and services owned by jews and possibly zionist we will be left out from a lot of product we enjoy in life. Instead of boycotting product let's rebuild our economies and the arab economies so we can have product and services owned by arabs and let those corporate contributes to the well being of the arabs.

    March 25, 2009