the target of Arab boycott for its growing links to Israel
By Robert Fisk in Beirut
The Independent (London)
14 June 2002
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 punishfor
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 Israel directly?'
"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 war."
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 an- nounced
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 programme 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 sympathisers 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 honour those "who have played key roles in promoting
close alliance between the United States and Israel".
Others who have travelled 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