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Starbucks: Coffee with a whiff of Apartheid?

Opinion | Radio Islam Programming | 2016.05.12 | 05 Shaban 1437 AH

By Ebrahim Moosa

It’s the largest coffee chain in the world, with 23 768 stores, and annual sales grossing some $16.45 billion. Starbucks can be found in some 67 countries, with nearly 600 stores located in 12 Middle Eastern and North African countries.

With its global presence, it is hardly a tall order to identify a Starbucks store anywhere. South Africans made easy work of this task in their scurrying after the brand, when its maiden store opened in Johannesburg this April. Throngs of fans queued overnight, eagerly awaiting to get their hands on a cuppa, and for those who eventually managed to cradle their hands on the drink, the ecstasy was palpable as the Instagram hits began climbing.

And yet, for all that can be said of its global pervasiveness, you may be curious to learn that Starbucks does not have a single store in Israel.

Yes, you’ll find them in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates, but as for Israel, one chain you won’t see is Starbucks.

It may then appear all the more absurd that some have singled out the American chain for boycott, citing allegations that the firm supports Israeli Occupation.

“(It) is absolutely untrue [that Starbucks or company’s chairman, president and CEO Howard Schultz provides financial support to Israel]”, the multinational claims on its website.

“Rumours that Starbucks or Howard provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army are unequivocally false. Starbucks is a publicly held company and as such, is required to disclose any corporate giving each year through a proxy statement.”

The company goes on to resolutely deny assertions that some of its profits end up going to the Israeli government and/or Israeli army as “absolutely untrue”.

“Our 300,000 partners around the globe have diverse views about a wide range of topics. Regardless of that spectrum of beliefs, Starbucks has been and remains a non-political organization. We do not support any political or religious cause. Additionally, neither Starbucks nor the company’s chairman, president and CEO Howard Schultz provide financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army in any way.”

Relying heavily on this official account, fact checking website Snopes.com has affirmed this version, debunking any assertion that Starbucks donates to the Israeli army.

But squeezing out the truth, takes a bit more of grinding.

Connecting the dots

A company terminating its operations in Israel  and having a CEO showcasing sympathies towards Israel only in ‘his personal capacity’, does not automatically translate into a concern with a higher level of business ethics, that should become worthy of public support.

Starbucks did indeed close shop in Israel in March 2003, hardly two years after kick-starting operations, with the backdrop of the second Intifada.

“We decided to dissolve our partnership in Israel in 2003 due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market,” the company says of its short-lived jaunt with the Delek Group of Israel that formed the Israeli subsidiary of Starbucks, which was known as the Shalom Coffee Company.

Poor sales and fear of resistance attacks at the time appeared to be the chief motivators for the company decision to cease operations there – rather than any exemplary magnanimity that it had discovered for the Palestinians.

Indeed, Starbucks still remains open to the possibility of trading directly inside Apartheid Israel, should the business terrain appear feasible.

“When and where the business case makes sense and we see a fit for the Starbucks brand in a market we will work closely with a local partner to assess the feasibility of offering our brand to that community. We will therefore continue to assess all opportunities on this basis”.

The conglomerate’s diversification into the wider Arab and Muslim world should not be feted as a revolutionary act either.

Contrasted with the Israeli market, the Gulf Muslim states present a rapacious market for American consumer goods, and Starbucks – far removed from whatever it truly thinks of Israel – is simply harvesting this demand.

Those who have dared to dig deeper into the company’s true stance on Israel have found trails of evidence that shake the company’s official stance on the matter.

Pro-Israel website Jerusalem Chai applauds “The Chairman and CEO of STARBUCKS, Howard Schultz,” who they say was, in 1998, “honored by the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah with ‘The Israel 50th Anniversary Friend of Zion Tribute Award’ for his services to the Zionist state in ‘playing a key role in promoting close alliance between the United States and Israel.’”

The Israel-based, “American Friends of Ateret Cohanim” continues, saying that “at a time when other businesses were desperately pulling out of Israel, Starbucks decided to help Israel’s floundering economy and invest in Israel. It has been revealed that Starbucks still continues to support Israel by sponsoring fund raisers for Israel.”

The inminds.com case file page on Starbucks provides even more compelling ‘smoking gun’ evidence, as it chronicles:

  • How the Israeli Foreign Ministry lauded CEO Schultz’s services as a propagandist for Israel
  • How evidence of Starbucks’ support for Zionist causes were airbrushed from several websites, once it became publicized
  • How Starbucks rallied behind US troops during the post 9/11 Occupation of Afghanistan
  • How it sponsored a fundraiser for a paratrooper unit in the Israeli Defense Forces

Perhaps even more compelling evidence of Starbucks’ Zionist leanings are the testimonials leading US Zionist organisations have issued affirming Schultz, and, by extension,  the company’s pro-Israel credentials.

The rabidly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sprung to the service of Starbucks in the wake of its exit from Israel, dispelling assertions that it had abandoned Israel.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs concurred:

“The chairman of Starbucks is an avid Zionist who opened the stores in Israel despite the ongoing violence. Coffee is serious business in Israel, and Starbucks was unable to penetrate the market.”

In the wake of calls for a consumer boycott of Starbucks over its alleged Zionist links, supporters of the Apartheid state have also responded by advocating a ‘boycott’ in order to assist the company.

“If [Schultz] is so concerned that anti-Israel boycotters will hurt his business, let’s show him what pro-Israel folks can do [in supporting his business]!”reads the motivation statement for one such online campaign.

Verdict

Interestingly, calls to boycott Starbucks don’t trace their origins exclusively to pro-Palestine quarters.

The Organic Consumers Association in the States has slated the company for its usage of non-organic milk, sales of genetically modified foods and drinks and a dismal fair trade track-record.

Other campaigners have lobbied to “Dump Starbucks” for its declaration that accommodating same-sex marriage is one of the core values that it affirms as a company.

“Starbucks has declared a culture war on all people of faith (and millions of others) who believe that the institution of marriage as one man and one woman is worth preserving,” says the website DumpStarbucks.com

“A portion of every cup of coffee purchased at a Starbucks anywhere in the world goes to fund this corporate assault on marriage,” it adds.

Bizarrely, even maverick US politician Donald Trump floated the idea of boycotting Starbucks after the coffee giant announced last November that it could abandon its end of year Christmas-themed cups.

“I have one of the most successful Starbucks, in Trump Tower. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care. That’s the end of that lease, but who cares?” he said.

For pro-justice campaigners around the world, the gripe with Starbucks goes far deeper than Trumps politicking over the colour of a cup.

True, the official BDS movement has not slated the coffee house for boycott, accepting the official explanations it has had to offer on its position.

However, for the discerning consumer, all evidence that has come to light – in spite of Starbucks’ attempts to polish its image, point to a company, typified by its propagandist CEO that is desperately trying to obfuscate its real persuasions in order to protect its bottom line from the latent power of a pro-justice boycott tsunami.

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