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Starbucks Israel Controversy: How Did the Coffee Chain Rumors Begin?

Image: Starbucks Israel Controversy: How Did the Coffee Chain Rumors Begin?
American citizen Kirsten Scheid, from Cleveland, Ohio, who lives in Lebanon, clinks traditional Arab coffee cups next to a painting as she urges people to boycott Starbucks, during a protest outside a Starbucks coffee shop in Beirut's Hamra street, June 21, 2002. (Jamal Saidi/Reuters/Landov)  

By    |   Sunday, 30 Nov 2014 11:53 AM

Starbucks has been a source of controversy since the coffee giant decided to lay roots in Israel. Depending upon the exact situation, consumers across the globe have called for boycotts of the Seattle-based company with assertions it either is pro-Israeli or anti-Israeli.

The furor over Starbucks’ ties to Israel began in 2003 when the company decided to close six Tel Aviv locations after two years in operation, effectively severing ties with the country. Starbucks has continued to operate in such Middle Eastern countries as Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.

Vote Now: Should the U.S. Continue to Support Israel?

Starbucks had been operating in Israel through a joint venture with a Middle Eastern company known as the Delek Group. “Ongoing operational challenges in the market” was the reason cited for the decision to leave the country, according to a March 31, 2003 news release from Starbucks. 

“It was a very difficult decision,” Mark McKeon, president of Starbucks Coffee International, said in the 2003 news release. “Our commitment in the market continues to be strong and long-term, and we will return at an appropriate time.”

Pro-Israeli advocates suggested the Starbucks decision could have been politically motivated, although the company has relentlessly suggested it was based solely on economic, not political, factors. In 2005, Starbucks began seeking out a managing partner, similar to the Delek Group, to resume operations in Israel, but those talks have not advanced to any actual deals in the decade since.

The controversy began in 2006 as military fighting within Israel intensified. Various allegations surfaced, including that Starbucks and/or CEO Howard Schultz provided funding to the Israeli government and Israeli army. There have been calls to boycott Starbucks in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2014.

In August 2014, Starbucks went on the record stating none of the company’s proceeds, nor Schultz’s own funds, have gone toward Israeli interests.

Starbucks Spokesman Jim Olson said Starbucks decided to issue a statement because of an “uptick in false rumors out there about Starbucks in the Middle East.”

“Starbucks does not support any political or religious causes, and that holds true for Howard as well,” Olson said in an interview with CNN Money. “There’s no financial support from Howard or the company to the Israeli government for any purposes.

But the calls to boycott Starbucks for a perceived pro-Israeli slant in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been relentless. Social media outlets have been a source of quickly spreading some of the furor.

Vote Now: Should the U.S. Continue to Support Israel?

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Starbucks has been a source of controversy since the coffee giant decided to lay roots in Israel. Depending upon the exact situation, consumers across the globe have called for boycotts of the Seattle-based company with assertions it either is pro-Israeli or anti-Israeli.
starbucks, israel, controversy
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2014-53-30
Sunday, 30 Nov 2014 11:53 AM
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