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Firas Al-Atraqchi: A Case of Rotten Coffee

The Israeli incursion into West Bank towns, the alleged Israeli massacres committed in the Palestinian refugee camps of Jenin, and the spectre of suicide bombers have provoked some stark commentary from luminaries around the world.

In a speech made to members of Seattle's Jewish community, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz warned American Jewry against complacency in the face of what he termed growing global anti-Semitism.

According to an Idaho news portal, Channel 7's KTVB.Com, Schultz told Jewish Americans that "If you leave this synagogue tonight and go back to your home and ignore this, then shame on us." Schultz did not elaborate on whom he referred to as 'us' - Jews, Americans, Israelis, or the general public, leading some to question where his loyalties really were.

Nevertheless, dozens of Jews gathered outside the meeting to protest Israel's invasion of the West Bank and the appalling conditions in which Palestinians live.

"We only get the side that talks about Palestinians as terrorists," Alethea Mundy told Channel 7. She was protesting media bias and coverage of Palestinians in North American media.

This was not the first time Schultz toured the U.S. to deliver oratory on the Middle East conflict. In early March, Shultz told a packed crowd of academics at the University of Washington campus, "I travel a great deal [and] one of the things that I see is the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, especially in France and England."

It is worth mentioning that Europe, notably France, have spearheaded the sharp rebuke of Israeli policies in Palestine. One wonders if Schultz is labelling any and all criticism of Israeli policies anti-Semitic.

Schultz drew heated debate when confronted with a question on why Israel won't leave the occupied territories in compliance with dozens of United Nations Security Council resolutions, specifically 242 and 338. He eluded answering and instead said that trust has been lost in the Middle East and that the conflict is no longer between armies but between neighbors. Schultz shrugged off criticism that Israel was the fourth largest military in the world, armed with some 200 nuclear warheads, advanced F-16 fighter jets and one of the world's best-trained armies. He also ignored the fact that the Palestinians in effect had no army of their own but were reduced to stones, rifles and homemade explosives.

Schultz' remarks on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and his subsequent remarks in the past few months have sparked an international flurry of protest and calls for his resignation. Starbucks would simply stress that Schultz is not held accountable because he is speaking his own opinions as a private citizen.

"The current situation in the Middle East is of grave concern to us all. Since 1998, we have had business interests throughout the Middle East, in several Arab countries and Israel. Mr. Schultz made his comments as a private citizen. Excerpts of his comments were selectively reported." said Orin Smith, Starbucks President and CEO.

In a statement released to this reporter from the International Communications and Worldwide Public Affairs department at Starbucks, Schultz said: "I deeply regret that my speech in Seattle was misinterpreted to be anti-Palestinian. My position has always been pro-peace and for the two nations to co-exist peacefully. I am deeply saddened by the current events in the Middle East."

Nevertheless, responses have ranged from calling for Schultz' ouster to a worldwide boycott of Starbucks products. One protester emailed Starbucks head office in Seattle saying; "By saving money and drinking regular coffee instead of $3 cup, I will have more money to donate to the needy Palestinian refugees expelled by the people Schulz is defending."

At press time, the boycott was in effect in North America, Europe and the Middle East.

- Firas Al-Atraqchi, MA, is a Canadian journalist living on the Pacific coast

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