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Israel-Palestine war: Row brews in Turkey as Starbucks’ alleged Israel support leaves bitter taste

Increasing numbers of Turkish people are telling customers to abandon the chain. But some note there are no Starbucks cafes in Israel
The Starbucks Workers United logo on the shirt of a former Starbucks employee attending a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, on 29 March (AP)
The Starbucks Workers United logo on the shirt of a former Starbucks employee attending a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, on 29 March (AP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Increasing numbers of Turkish people are joining a boycott against US-based coffee company Starbucks over its alleged support for Israel.

Several videos have circulated on social media over the past week showing protesters outside Starbucks cafes in Turkey calling on customers to stop buying coffee from the company.

The campaign began in response to the Israel-Palestine war, during which an Israeli air and ground attack on Gaza has killed more than 11,200 Palestinians, including over 4,600 children.

The assault followed a Hamas-led attack on Israel that killed around 1,200 Israelis, the majority civilians. 

One video from the Turkish city of Izmit showing a protester spilling someone’s coffee has gone particularly viral.

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“Shame, shame!” a protester is heard shouting at a customer.

“Inform yourself about Starbucks,” another protester said.

Translation: A group of people reacted to people sitting at Starbucks in Izmit and spilled their coffee.

Bekir Develi, a popular YouTuber, placed a Bluetooth speaker to a Starbucks branch in the city of Istanbul, which broadcast a message: “The money you are currently paying to this organisation is going to Gaza’s babies as bombs, blood and death.”

Translation: Great awareness raising and a very effective boycott call! A tremendous contribution to the people's economic sanctions against Israel, brother Bekir Develi

In 2009, Starbucks officially rejected rumours that it and its CEO at the time, Howard Schultz, had provided support to Israel.

“Rumours that Starbucks or Howard provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli army are unequivocally false,” the company states on its website.

However, Starbucks’ decision to sue Starbucks Workers United in a federal court in Iowa over a pro-Palestinian social media post from a union account early in the Israel-Palestine war angered customers.

Workers United responded with its own filing, asking a federal court in Pennsylvania to rule that it can continue to use Starbucks’ name and a similar logo. Workers United also said Starbucks defamed the union by implying that it supports terrorism and violence.

On 9 October, two days after the Hamas-led attack on Israeli communities near Gaza, Starbucks Workers United posted “Solidarity with Palestine!” on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Follow Middle East Eye's live coverage of the Israel-Palestine war

Yagmur Y, a Turkish writer wishing to withold their surname, told MEE that Starbucks' lawsuit against its union over a pro-Palestine tweet was enough for her to boycott the coffee chain. 

“This is reason enough to believe that they support Israel,” she said, noting that Schultz, who stepped down as interim CEO in March, received an honorary award from Israel in 1998.

“Even though they explain that they do not provide financial support to Israel - and why would they do so anyway - they do not seem convincing to me.”

On Monday, Turkey’s religious authority released a statement throwing its backing behind people boycotting Israeli products.

“It is also forbidden [haram] to remain insensitive to oppression and injustice, to remain silent against oppressors and traitors, to directly or indirectly support oppressors, invaders, terrorists and murderers, and to support their supporters,” said Ali Erbas, president of Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

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Supporters of the boycott have highlighted the work done by Schultz, who is Ashkenazi Jewish, on deepening US-Israeli ties.

The Israel 50th Anniversary Tribute Award given to him in 1998 from the Jerusalem Fund of Aish Ha-Torah was awarded for "playing a key role in promoting a close alliance between the United States and Israel". 

“The award itself and Starbucks' lawsuit against the unions is self-explanatory for our decision to boycott them,” said Aysun C, a boycott supporter who also asked for his surname to be withheld.

Several supporters of the Starbucks boycott told MEE that the majority of boycotters were religious conservatives.

An incident in Izmit, a city 100km southwest of Istanbul, was indicative of social divides seen in the campaign.

Video footage from Monday showed a woman telling customers in a Starbucks to boycott the company, and receiving a response from one man telling her Turkey is a secular country, not an Islamic one.

The woman replied by saying any human should be concerned about the dying babies in Gaza. Some of the customers then shouted at her: “Then you should go to Gaza.”

Serbestiyet, a Turkish news website, noted that Starbucks doesn’t have any branches in Israel.

“Starbucks is not on the boycott list of the BDS [Boycott Divestment and Sanctions] campaign,” it wrote, referencing the anti-Israeli occupation movement inspired by the drive against South African apartheid.

“Starbucks' branches in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which includes Turkey, have been owned by the Kuwaiti Alshaya Group since 1999.”

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