Across five Arab states a new and closely co-ordinated campaign to boycott
American goods is being launched, with Starbucks coffee shops their primary target,
but with Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Burger King outlets
also on the list. In Beirut today, activists will be leafleting outside the city's
four Starbucks shops, detailing the pro-Israeli sentiments of its chief executive,
Howard Shultz, and claiming he is "an active Zionist".
In 1998, Mr Shultz was awarded the "Israeli 50th Anniversary Tribute Award"
from the Jerusalem Fund of Aish Ha-Torah, which is strongly critical of Yasser
Arafat and insists that the occupied Palestinian territories should be described
only as "disputed".
In a speech to Jewish Americans in Seattle earlier this year at the
height of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon's, reoccupation of West Bank
towns Starbucks' top man condemned Palestinian "inaction" and announced
that "the Palestinians aren't doing their job they're not stopping terrorism".
Gideon Meir, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, complimented Mr Shultz for
helping American students to hear "Israeli presentations on the Middle East crisis".
Starbucks operates in six other Arab countries Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but the boycott protesters,
who include both Palestinians and Muslim groups at Ein Shams University in Egypt
and the American University of Cairo, have a much wider list of companies they
wish to punish for allegedly supporting Israel, not only in the Middle East but
in the United States itself.
They include AOL Time Warner, Disney, Estée Lauder, Nokia, Revlon, Marks
& Spencer, Selfridges and IBM. Students at Dubai University and in the Syrian
capital, Damascus, are now also liaising over their boycott plans.
"At first, it was very frustrating getting even the four boycott groups in
Lebanon to work together," Amira Solh, one of the Lebanese activists, says. "We
had difficulty defining whether we should target American goods or those companies
that have direct relations with Israel. We really only got going the first time
the Israelis laid siege to Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. Lebanon boycotts
all Israeli goods, so we started asking, 'What about those companies which help
"Most Arab countries have fallen into a capitalist world that accepts American
companies with close links to Israel. What we are now initiating is an economic
Burger King incurred Arab anger more than two years ago when it opened an outlet
in an illegal Jewish settlement on the occupied West Bank. The company initially
decided to close the outlet and then after pro-Israeli lobby pressure in
America apparently allowed it to reopen under a different franchise.
Nestlé has bought a control-ling share in the Israeli firm Osem, allowing
Nestlé to sell its products in Israel, including Nescafé, Perrier,
Carnation, Smarties and KitKat. It is a deal which, in the words of one Israeli
journalist, "provides Osem with a worldwide distribution and advertising infrastructure".
In a recent report to investors, Osem-Nestlé announced a four-monthly profit
of $7.5m (£5.1m).
In Lebanon, Coca-Cola which runs a plant in the country has attempted
to deflect Arab criticism by pointing out that it does not manufacture Coca-Cola
in Israel and sells only imported bottles of its products, including Fanta and
Sprite, in the Jewish state. In what was widely seen as an attempt to soften the
mood of protesters, the Coca-Cola company in Lebanon has suddenly embarked on
a program of planting cedar trees the national emblem near the town
of Jezzine, south of Beirut.
Starbucks, which has 4,709 retail locations around the world, has been trying
to damp down its pro-Israeli image, telling protesters who have written to the
company that its chief executive, Howard Shultz, who is himself Jewish, "does
not believe the terrorism (sic) is representative of the Palestinian people".
When he spoke recently to his local synagogue, Starbucks says, "Howard was
speaking as a private citizen and did not interview with the media regarding this
subject". Another Starbucks response says the company "is deeply saddened by the
current events (sic) in the Middle East" and quotes a statement by Mr Shultz.
"I deeply regret that my speech in Seattle was misinterpreted as anti-Palestinian,"
he says. "My position has always been pro-peace and for the two nations (sic)
to co-exist peacefully."
Arab students believe the real fears of American executives are focused not
on losses in the Arab world but on the danger that Arab protests will be picked
up by Palestinian sympathizers in Europe and even in America itself.
Mr Shultz, who does not appear to have condemned the building of illegal Israeli
settlements on occupied land, spearheaded Starbucks' entry into the Israeli market
last year with its first two coffee shops built through a joint venture
company called Shalom Coffee Ltd in Tel Aviv. By the end of this year,
Starbucks plans to have a total of 20 coffee houses operating throughout Israel.
Mr Shultz is a regular visitor to Israel and one of many personalities who
have been brought to Jerusalem as a guest of the Theodor Herzl mission, at whose
gala dinner is held an award ceremony of the Friends of Zion to honor those "who
have played key roles in promoting close alliance between the United States and
Others who have traveled on the Theodor Herzl mission include Baroness Thatcher,
Newt Gingrich, the US Speaker of the House, and the former US governor Tom Ridge
now the head of "Homeland Security".
© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd