Starbucks protested in Beirut
Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel targets Starbucks in Beirut.
Starbuck Boycott Campaign standoff with Lebanese Army
Printed on Friday, January 31, 2003 @ 11:42:54 EST
News from the Front By Kirsten Idriss,
Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel
[BEIRUT] - On Friday, January 24, at 4:45 pm, 25 members and friends of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel gathered in front of the Starbucks branch on Verdun St. to stage a drink-in protesting Starbucksı economic and ideological support of Israel. This was the Campaignıs third Drink-In this month targeting the Starbucks at Beirutıs most expensive and elite shopping mall. Aimed at the after-work leisure crowd, each drink-in has involved a short play called ³Starbucks & Israel² (see below), free Arabic coffee for passers-by, the music of clinking porcelain coffee cups, distribution of brochures with documented information on Starbucksı investment in Israel, and colorful posters and banners.
Within an hour of their arrival, some 40 soldiers from the Lebanese Army arrived on the scene, surrounded the protestors and demanded their immediate dispersal under threat of arrest. The demand, completely unconstitutional (1), set an entirely new tone for government response to boycott activities in Lebanon that have taken place regularly throughout the past year. It comes on the eve of American aggression against Iraq and signals the governmentıs intention to squelch local protest to Arabsı implication in this war.
Starbucks has been the subject of international outrage because of its CEOıs ideological support for Israel as a Zionist oppressor of Palestinian human rights and for the companyıs application of this ideology by investing in the Israeli economy at a time when the cost of military actions against Palestinians has overwhelmed it and despite the losses Israeli Starbucks branches accrue to the Washington-based corporation. (2) Three months after returning from a trip to Israel ³to study the situation so he [could] promote Israelıs case abroad,²(3) Starbucksı CEO, Howard Schultz, appeared at a rally of the Jewish Federation of Seattle where he compared the Palestinian Intifada to Nazi anti-semitism and condemned Palestinians who were in the midst of the siege of Jenin for not stopping terrorism. (4)
As at previous drink-ins, the customers sipping their bitter brews on Starbucksı terrace were treated to a play that quoted Schultz verbatim on his decision to use Starbucks to boost the Israeli economy. Meanwhile, activists sporting black t-shirts with the striking yellow and black Boycott logo handed out brochures up and down Verdun St., making sure to stick to municipality property and not trespass on Starbucksı space. Passers-by were offered free Arabic coffee to remind them that there is always an alternative.
Several customers left their tables to get brochures, and a number who had been planning to sit at Starbucks read the information and decided to go elsewhere for coffee. Two women from Saudi Arabia not only left Starbucks, but stood with the activists for the entire protest, saying they had been moved by both the incriminating information and the extremely civil methods adopted by protestors. Three college students signed up to join future events and though one first asked to be called ³after exams are over,² she changed her mind after standing with the demonstration and announced she was willing to start right away. Quite a few people emphasized that they had not heard about Starbucksı connection to Israel and declared that they would not patronize the store again until it changed its policies. Others asked how this boycott would affect the local workers and investors, to which activists replied that they were not against the locals but believed they could follow customers to other sources of coffee not involved with human rights violations. On several occasions the General Security forces asked activists to move, and they always complied in order to establish their cooperativeness. Overall the atmosphere was polite and patient, yet passionate.
At about 5:30 several army jeeps pulled up and some 15 soldiers filed out. They proceeded to demand that activists stationed across the street leave their posts, on the excuse that traffic was being slowed by their handing out brochures. Once all the activists were grouped together, the army surrounded them completely and demanded that they leave immediately. No reason was given. Activists approached the captain and asked him what law had been broken. He said there was ³a possibility we might disturb security.² We pointed out that we had been very peaceful in the last two sit-ins and that now that he was here he could see for himself that our behavior was polite and civil, so he could just assure his superiors that there was in fact, no such chance. The captain replied, ³I have my orders to break this demonstration up.² Then he pulled one activist, Dr. Samah Idriss, over to the side and told him that he was under orders to arrest him if the group did not disperse immediately. Dr. Idriss retorted that he had a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression and public demonstration, and that he was merely exercising that right. The captain, rather meekly, repeated that he was merely carrying out orders.
For about twenty minutes discussion continued as the activists continued to reject the soldiersı orders. The play was staged again and followed by shouts of ³Boycott Starbucks² that echoed through the shopping mall. A little past 6 pm (the announced ending time for the event), several soldiers hurriedly escorted Dr. Idriss to the side, as reporters from MBC, Al-Mustaqbal, and As-Safir looked on but were forbidden from taking any pictures. Dr. Idriss informed us that he was told, ³It seems you donıt mind being taken away in an army jeep, but do you want the rest of your friends to go, too?² Idriss told the captain, ³I will go along with this now, but Iım against it because it contradicts the Lebanese constitution. Orders from the nation are more important than orders from the army.² Meanwhile another set of jeeps arrived, so that by now there were between 30 and 40 armed soldiers surrounding the demonstration. Pedestrians surprised by the military presence asked if someone had been killed. When they learned that no, there was just a demonstration, they looked at the soldiers and said, ³Donıt you need to go to the South and defend out borders?!²
Even as a commanding officer warned the activists to ³leave or face a fight,² several soldiers took their brochures, others looked on as the play was staged, and a few activists reported that they heard soldiers asking if they could join the demonstration. Whether or not that is true, it is clear that the army was uncertain about its mission. There was no provocation or ³national security² pretext for arresting a modest group of courteous people engaged in a simple civil mobilization, and the soldiers knew it. The outnumbering of armed forces to protestors for a purely non-violent event called even more attention to Starbucksı dubious presence. Participants in the demonstration found their conviction that civil awareness campaigns are effective reinforced by this attention. Journalists were scandalized by the flimsiness of the armyıs reasoning, as the report this morning in As-Safir shows. ( http://www.assafir.com)
Were the owners of Starbucks responsible for this unusual interference by the army? Are the interests of big business in Arab countries so readily identified with the security of the state that constitutions can be broken on their behalf? Or is the Lebanese government ³cleaning up the street² to get ready for an unacceptable war against Iraq? Without answers, we can only insist that our mobilization to free Palestine is also a mobilization to free ourselves. This is precisely the reason why, from the beginning we have adopted an individual-oriented, civilian awareness campaign: we seek a form of action that will take us far beyond protecting Palestinians. Clearly the army sought to make protestors feel they were doing something prohibited, but they wanted to avoid appearing overtly oppressive. Please let us emphasize to the critics who, in order to deflect genuine criticism of the Israeli apartheid, say we should put our own houses in order before attacking Israel, that we citizens of the Arab nations surrounding the Zionist entity will not be free of one oppression without confronting the other. While you who seek to defend an oppressive regime point to the presence of another, we are struggling against both at once. Let history record who has done more for the sake of humanity.
The Starbucks drink-ins are the latest in a series of boycott actions in Beirut, which have focused on nine companies for their ideological and/or economic support of Israel.
1) The Lebanese constitution guarantees the freedoms of expression and public demonstration. In 1996, Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri created an amendment prohibiting the freedom of demonstration ³for the sake of national security.² It was widely agreed to be unconstitutional, but there were not enough members of parliament wiling to challenge it for the law to go to court. In 1995, a parliamentary discussion of the amendment caused it to be overturned. In 1998 Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss confirmed that the Lebanese constitution guarantees citizens the right to demonstrate.
2) ³Starbucks Israel lost NIS 4m in Q2,² Yediot Ahranot, Aug. 29, 2002.
3) Vered Sharon-Rivlin, ³Starbucks: Weıre not shelving development plans for Israeli market,² Globes: Israel Business News, Jan. 16, 2002.
4) Elisa Hahn, ³Starbucksı CEO warns American Jews against complacency,² King 5 (Seattle), April 4, 2002
Starbucks and Israel,² a play in 3 acts
Cast: Howard Schultz, CEO
Reporter for Globes
Alethea Mundy, protestor
Setting: Jerusalem, Seattle
Time: January to April, 2002
Act 1: January 16, 2002, in Jerusalem. Schultz has come on a mission ³to study the political situation, so he can promote Israelıs case abroad.² (6) He is speaking to an Israeli newspaper, Globes. Heıs feeling defensive; his voice is shrill:
Reporter: Mr. Schultz, is it true that because Starbucksı 5 stores in Tel Aviv have lost over $800,000 in the three months since they opened, your company will be pulling out of Israel at this crucial time?
Schultz: Itıs completely incorrect. As a US Jew, my commitment to Israel is very high and my commitment to Delek [Starbucksı Israeli partner] is 110%. I canıt say that more strongly. Here I am. Within five years, weıll spend $15 million to open 80 Starbucks cafés [in Israel.]
Act 2: April 4, 2002, at the Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, Washington, where Schultz is headlining the rally of the Jewish Federation of Seattle. His voice is loud and firm:
Schultz: 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. If you leave this synagogue tonight and go back to your home and ignore this, then shame on us. Take a stand, please!
Alethea Mundy, a protestor, interrupts, shouting: We only get the side that talks about Palestinians as terrorists. As if all the civilians right now living in a state of siege and terror are terrorists, and they're not!
Schultz shoots back: The Palestinians arenıt doing their job; theyıre not stopping terrorism.
Act 3: Starbucks branches are opening in Israeli and Arab cities, but theyıre showing profits in the Arab cities. Now itıs your turn to act.
This play is based on real events, and if youıre drinking at Starbucks, youıre paying for them.
SOURCES for play:
6) Vered Sharon-Rivlin, ³Starbucks: Weıre not shelving development plans for Israeli market,² Globes: Israel Business News, January 16, 2002
7) Quoted verbatim from ibid.
8) This and all quotes following verbatim from Elisa Hahn, ³Starbucksı CEO warns American Jews against complacency,² King 5 (Seattle), April 4, 2002.
YellowTimes.org believes the general accuracy of the preceding report, but cannot guarantee it. We print information received from sources on the front lines of this particular conflict. Copyright for this item belongs to the original author. YellowTimes.org encourages this material to be reproduced, reprinted, or broadcast provided that any such reproduction identifies the original source, along with a web link to YellowTimes.org.
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