For Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Israel has always been a fraught topic. Raised in a Brooklyn Jewish family, he’s been accused of supporting Israel and also of not supporting Israel, although in general he keeps his religious sentiments and committments very private.
But the recent Israel-Palestinian conflict in Gaza has brought the hullaballoo to an all-time high, getting Schultz in trouble with both sides. Activists using the boycott app Buycott called on July 22 for consumers to stop buying Starbucks coffee, saying Schultz is a “propagandist for Israel.” The effort mentioned that he was honored by Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox organization, in 1998, and said that the company "sponsors fundraisers for Israel," although it didn't provide specifics to support that claim.
And Starbucks isn't the only food giant to be caught in the crossfire; McDonalds has had to likewise explain that it's a business uninvolved with political causes or conflicts.
Starbucks responded to the accusations that it's somehow on Israel's side by updating and reposting policy on the Middle East, which explains that it supports neither the Israeli government, nor the army, nor, indeed, any political or religious cause. At which point, wouldn't you know it, pro-Israel activists took umbrage, calling in their turn for their own boycott.
“If he’s so concerned that anti-Israel boycotters will hurt his business, let’s show him what pro-Israel folks can do!” authors of the counter-boycott petition wrote about Schultz.
Joining the fray, Rabbi Marc D. Angel, rabbi emeritus of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and former president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), sent out a mass email referencing Starbucks’ statement and declaring that, in response, he will “henceforth distance myself from Starbucks.”
“Those of us who care deeply about Israel can find other places to get our coffee,” he wrote in the email.
More than 3,800 people had joined the pro-Israel, anti-Starbucks campaign as of Aug. 15; the original anti-Israel, anti-Starbucks boycott has 339 signatories.
In Malaysia, McDonald's said their staff had to endure harassment, threats and verbal abuse over the boycott of Israeli-products led by certain parties.
The boycott followed accusations from several non-governmental organizations claiming the fast-food chain had funding Israel’s during the Gaza war.
"The reality is that our employees and franchisees have done nothing wrong and it is grossly unfair that they should be targeted in such a way," wrote McDonald’s Malaysia in a press release last week.
The company reiterated that it "does not channel any sales, profits or franchise fees from restaurants to support any political causes or conflicts in any part of the world."
As public relations teams at both companies quietly tear their hair out, the situation is making one thing very clear: when it comes to positions on Israel, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.