In the Arab world (where Starbucks has over 60 stores) and here in the U.S., pro-Palestinian groups have been calling for a boycott of Starbucks because of statements made by the company's chairman Howard Schultz. Schultz, who is active in the Seattle Jewish community, has spoken about the current Middle Eastern crisis at a number of recent gatherings, including a rally at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in April, a speech at the UW in March, and an event earlier this winter at Starbucks headquarters, during which he discussed a recent trip to Israel.
Some of Schultz's remarks were selectively quoted in local news accounts, then spread across Muslim media and bulletin boards as evidence of an anti-Palestinian bias. Two weeks ago, activists in Beirut handed out leaflets in front of Starbucks stores accusing Schultz of being "an active Zionist."
An organization called American Muslims for Peace and Justice, based in Washington, D.C., recently called for a Starbucks boycott in the U.S., and the group's director, Raeed Tayeh, appeared last week on The O'Reilly Factor and Hardball With Chris Matthews. Tayeh declared that Schultz "acted as if the Palestinians are just a bunch of anti-Semitic mongrels who want to wipe the Jews from the face of the earth."
The offending statements appear to have been extracted from a KING 5 news account of the April rally at Temple De Hirsch, which was posted on the KING 5 Web site and, in turn, copied in many other places, including on the Web site of Arab News, an English-language daily in Saudi Arabia. It quoted Schultz as saying, "What is going on in the Middle East is not an isolated part of the world. The rise of anti-Semitism is at an all-time high since the 1930s."
A story the same day in The Seattle Times provided a little more context, noting that Schultz was discussing not just Palestinian terrorist attacks but recent anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. "There are people in this world who want to eliminate [us] from the face of this earth," said Schultz, according to the Times. "Ladies and gentlemen, the 1930s are back, and we can't ignore it any longer." An actual transcript of Schultz's speech wasn't available.
Ironically, Starbucks has a much heavier presence in the Arab world than inside the "Zionist entity." Starbucks has opened only five stores in Israel but has nine in Lebanon, 13 in Kuwait, 19 in Saudi Arabia, and 23 in the United Arab Emirates. A spokesperson would not comment on whether the boycott is having any noticeable effect on sales.
But Schultz has issued an apology, saying, "I deeply regret that my speech in Seattle was misinterpreted to be anti-Palestinian. My position has always been pro-peace and for the two nations to coexist peacefully."
Mark D. Fefer
Reporting by Temma Ehrenfeld/New York