Last Updated Jan 21, 2009 5:50 PM EST
The day after I wrote this post, protesters in Lebanon forced a Beirut Starbucks to shut down for the day. A few days later, protesters smashed windows at at least two Starbucks locations in London. (Another London Starbucks was trashed and looted on Jan. 10, along with other businesses near the Israeli Embassy.)
Other companies have also been named as financial backers of Israel in the recent flurry of SMS and Facebook messages spreading misinformation throughout the world. But Starbucks seems to be getting hit the worst.
Apparently Starbucks' problems stem from a hoax letter dated July 11, 2006; someone posing as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote that the company gives Israel hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and that "with every cup you drink at Starbucks you are helping with a noble cause." In real life, Schultz is indeed a supporter of Israel -- he even received an award for it in 1998 -- but the idea that Starbucks makes donations to any foreign armies or governments is baseless and pretty ridiculous.
Our more than 160,000 partners and business associates around the globe have diverse views about a wide range of topics. Regardless of that spectrum of belief, Starbucks Coffee Company remains a non-political organization. We do not support any political or religious cause. Further, allegations that Starbucks provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army in any way are unequivocally false. Unfortunately, these rumors persist despite our best efforts to refute them.As a publicly traded company, the release points out, Starbucks would be obligated to disclose any contributions made to Israel or its army.
Starbucks doesn't even do business in Israel -- it shut down its franchises there in 2003 "due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market." And all of its Middle East branches are actually operated by the Kuwait-based Alshaya Group.
Of the numerous Facebook groups calling for boycotts of Starbucks (and sometimes McDonald's as well), the majority now seem to have wall posts pointing out that the boycotts are based on false information. But it's hard to say how much of a difference that will make. A member of one such Facebook group responded today with this message: "even if we have not proof to say just how much moneys goes towards Israel...we still need to boycott these stores, restaurants and products because some of their heads on the executive board are known Zionist who support Israel."