Monday, January 19, 2009

London Starbucks attacks linked to boycott Israel movement, conspiracy theories

In recent days, there has been a wave of anti-Israel violence and vandalism in reaction to Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. Most of that has been directed at innocent third parties who are thought to have connections to Israel. One of the odder manifestations of this trend has been the sudden morphing of a campaign to boycott Starbucks shops into actual attacks on two shops in London and demonstrations at several others in Britain, Europe and the Middle East.

JTA has published a brief piece with more information on the violent attacks on two London Starbucks shops by people who had participated in a rally at Trafalgar Square which featured various pro-Hamas and anti-Israel speakers. Read it here. It directly links these violent attacks to calls to divest from and boycott businesses alleged to be connected to Israel. It also tracks the origins of conspiracy theories motivating the attacks. (Also read this piece by Brendan O'Neill which provides greater detail.) The allegations behind these boycotts and the nature of their supposed remedy are vague and subject to interpretation. The rioters in London provided one form of interpretation.

from the JTA:

Calls to boycott Starbucks, based on false claims that the company helped finance Israel’s military operation in Gaza, led to violent attacks on two of its cafes in London.
In the past two weeks, the call to boycott Starbucks have been circulating by e-mails and SMS messages with the claim that Starbucks and McDonald’s were donating their next two weeks' revenues to Israel. Some claimed the donations are to the “Israeli military.”

On Jan. 17, during an anti-Israel rally at Trafalgar Square in central London, the rapper Lowkey attacked companies, including Starbucks, that have "Zionist" links." "You say you know about the Zionist lobby," he told the crowd, "but you put money in their pockets every time you’re buying their coffee." After the rally, two groups of a few dozen people each smashed the windows of two branches of Starbucks cafes and looted the shops.

Those calling for a boycott of Starbucks claim they have a letter from 2006 that proves their claim about company CEO Howard Schultz's support of Israel. Apparently the letter was published on an Internet site by an Australian anti-Zionist, who made it clear that he wrote the letter as a parody. Statements by Starbucks denying the claims did nothing to stop the campaign against the “Zionist coffee.”

Starbucks does not operate in Israel. In 2003 the company closed its branches there after being unable to break into the extensive cafe market.

One of the groups behind Britain's boycott campaign is Inminds, an Islamist group which works to support the Iranian dictatorship. Inminds issue a list of corporations and products which they assert are linked to Israel and are therefor "support(ing) baby killers". Their flyer is available on their website in Word format here. The website says the flyer is intended "to accompany the family on shopping trips, etc., to ensure guilty brands are avoided." (They don't specify whether "etc." includes vandalism of shops and attacks on workers.) The list of products to be boycotted includes clothing, food and cosmetics; not a single arms manufacturer is on the list. The connection of these products to Israel is not indicated.

Inminds has also published a flyer and webpage baselessly accusing Starbucks of complicity in violence against civilians. (Their flyer, entitled "Starbucks contribution to violence", is readable here in pdf. The Inminds anti-Starbucks webpage is here.) Their flyer features a bloody graphic portraying the following equation: U.S. flag + Israeli flag + Starbucks logo = horrific image of dead baby. It (ungrammatically) claims that "(b)y boycotting Starbucks, we're engaging in an essential key role to stop funding the Israeli and American Governmental Terrorism taking place worldwide and especially in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan!" (According to their website, Inminds' allegations concerning Starbucks role in Iraq and Afganistan deal with Starbucks collaboration with the Red Cross to provide free coffee to troops. The connection to Lebanon goes unstated.) The unfounded allegations of Starbucks' complicity in violence, the conspiracy theories and the violent imagery promoted by Inminds may have played a role in motivating the recent attacks on London Starbucks.

I was disturbed to discover that Inminds' anti-Israel boycotts are currently being promoted on Talking Points Memo, a highly reputable U.S. blog. (Read here.) The author of that post, Salman Ranaw, gives some background to the attacks in London, stating that "(a) few Muslims in Birmingham got together and paid for the printing of 10,000 colour boycott leaflets (which they approached us to design). The leaflets were distributed through out (sic) the UK."

(More on the London attacks at Harry's Place here and here. Other U.K. reports here and here. The story of an attack on a Starbucks in Beirut can be read here, on a blog of the L.A. Times and here, on a leftist French blog.)

The idea of anti-Starbucks activism connected to opposition to Israel has been floating around for quite some time. As I discussed here in a piece about Seattle's proposed anti-Israel divestature measure last year, Starbuck's has been a target of anti-Israel boycotters in the U.S. as well as in Europe and the Muslim world. Here (about a third of the way down the page) and here (in a pormotional flyer in MSWord) is a 2002 example of three boycott-Starbucks demonstrations staged in New Brunswick, N.J. by a local ISM (International Solidarity Movement) affiliate called New Jersey Solidarity, which is based at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. (As an aside, I noted with interest that, concurrent with their anti-Starbucks campaign, the Rutgers group hosted -- on campus -- an infamous anti-Semitic web polemicist who calls himself Joachim Martillo. The flyer for that event is available in pdf here. To cite a recent example of his writing, Martillo recently wrote here that not blaming Jews as a group for the world financial crisis "is comparable to Holocaust denial". To get the gist of the ISM agenda, check out the New Jersey ISM group's flyers for its 2002-2003 events here.)

The website coninues to diseminate the phony 2006 Starbucks letter discussed in the JTA piece above. (Read here. WARNING: the website features violent, disturbing imagery and language. It also promotes Holocaust denial.) Ziopedia also diseminates the following anti-Semitic image

[NOTE: Since this was written, the ziopedia website has taken this material offline. I've found this archived version of the phony letter, with a confession by Andrew Winkler, ziopedia's publisher, that he was its true author. A larger version of the below image, which was formerly linked to from ziopedia above, has since been removed from that website.


The website promoted the boycott of Starbucks in this 2006 post. This 2006 report from the Jewlicious website concerns an Arab blogger who adds his own twist to the usual Zionist conspiracy: he believes that the Starbucks logo depicts Queen Esther. This string on an Arab bulletin board connects Starbucks to Zionism to saturated fats.

According to one Arab-American blogger (read here), these rumors and conspiracy theories have recently found fertile ground in the U.S. Arab community in reaction to the fighting in Gaza. Jamal Dajani writes:

BTW, did I mention that here in the U.S. Arab Americans in solidarity with Gaza have been boycotting Starbucks? For the last couple of weeks, internet conspiracy theorists have been spreading a story that Starbucks is funding the Israeli attacks on Gaza!
With respect to the various internet and text message campaigns spurring anti-Starbucks actions throughout the world, we have the following from (read here):

The Starbucks coffee company, which operates many stores in the Arab world, especially in the Persian Gulf, also issued a statement denying the message, and also denied rumors that the company's Jewish CEO Howard Schultz expressed support for the military operation in Gaza. Similar rumors about Shultz were spread during the Second Lebanon War, sparking a greater row than the present one. Starbucks ... denied (those) reports ... as well.

Note to readers: if you know of more conspiracy theories involving Starbucks and Israel and feel like posting them to the comments section of this post, be my guest...

UPDATE: According to MEMRI, al-Jazeera is promoting the boycott and the whole Protocols of the Elders of Starbucks conspiracy theory. (Read here.)

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Birmingham stores were attacked also, protestors threw bricks and eggs.


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