Starbucks and BDS

The issue of starbucks comes up repetitively in BDS discussions, and I think it’s relevant to listen to what Starbucks has to say on the issue.

Here’s the key bit:

Is it true that Starbucks provides financial support to Israel?
No. This is absolutely untrue. Rumors that Starbucks Coffee Company provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army are unequivocally false. Starbucks is a publicly held company and as such, is required to disclose any corporate giving each year through a proxy statement. In addition, articles in the London Telegraph (U.K.), New Straits Times (Malaysia), and Spiked (online) provide an outside perspective on these false rumors.

Has Starbucks ever sent any of its profits to the Israeli government and/or Israeli army?
No. This is absolutely untrue.

Is it true that Starbucks is teaming with other American corporations to send their last several weeks of profits to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army?
No. This is absolutely untrue.

The fact Starbucks puts this kind of information on their page should be seen as a victory for BDS. I’m not saying we should all go out and support Starbucks. We might as individuals supporting BDS dislike the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz who in 1998 was awarded an “Israel 50th Anniversary Tribute Award” from the Jerusalem Fund of Aish Ha-Torah for “playing a key role in promoting a close alliance between the United States and Israel”. Also, according to the Arab American News, Shultz “has championed and funded defense of Israel on U.S. university campuses.” In other words, Shultz has been actively involved in countering the work that anti-zionist activists (and even liberal-zionist peace activists) on American university campuses do when they criticize the US-Israeli relationship and ongoing Israeli colonization and crimes against humanity.
But, BDS is not about targeting individual, even if well connected, Zionists. It is not about boycotting people we don’t like, even people who try to work against us – it is about a principled and consistent economic withdrawal from companies, academic institutions, and cultural performers, who support the Israeli apartheid regime and help wash its international image. 

Idle No More – between reform and insurgency, the anti/alter-colonial struggle

I have been hesitant to write any commentary on the recent cross Canada first nations mobilization. Hesitant because I feel I don’t understand it terribly well, and that there are others who are better situated to write commentary on what is going on.

But I think that I now have something to say. The thing about Idle No More which is very interesting to me is the way it manages to be both a revolutionary and liberal, both insurgent and reformist movement at the same time. It is both radical and non-radical because it is at the level of principles not a straightforward anti-colonialist movement, but rather an alter-colonialist, which means reformist, paradigm. The goals are not to kick out the colonizer, but to ask the colonizer to abide by the treaties that were signed a long time ago, and which are not obeyed. The tactics are based on law, based on appeal to the legal basis of the Canadian state, based on appeals to the obligations not simply of the Canadian state but of the British crown. This is why the chiefs demand to meet with the Governor General – because, Canadian democracy aside, they argue it is ultimately the responsibility of the crown to force its local ministers to obey by the international treaties that the crown signed with indigenous nations.

The trick is – for the state to comply with these treaties would mean very deep changes to the Canadian economy, and in the end, to Canadian society. Existing capitalism, the resource economy, can’t survive without subsidies it receives from mining resources on first nations territory. So while the prescription “Obey the treaties” is liberal, its political situation is a radical one because it will take force, it will cause a rupture, for the state to comply with treaties that are damaging to its economy.

And indigenous people in Canada have the power to exert force. They know how to run blockades, they know how to occupy territory, and it is not very easy to label them as terrorists because in the Canadian situation racist slurs against indigenous people are no longer acceptable in liberal society. Indigenous people can shut down the border at Windsor, they can control bridges – they likely can’t win a military confrontation against the Canadian Forces, but the mere danger of such a confrontation has a political effect.

Of course, the use of force isn’t a magic bullet in struggle. Peaceful protest must come first, a grassroots movement must be broad-based and strong. Settlers must play a role in the movement – taking responsibility for their position as settlers, and pressuring their government to abide by the law. The most important thing settlers must do is combat the racist tendencies in settler societies to demonize the indigenous every time they demand their rights.

By being both liberal and radical, both reformist and insurgent, INM is an opportunity to mobilize a broad coalition of the political centre and the political left, those who vote NDP and those who boycott the elections. And, it is an opportunity for all these populations to participate in a single solidarity struggle, and to learn the complimentary virtues of pragmatism and hard-line commitment. The maoist left can get over its “workerism”, center-liberals can get over their allergy to community-rights, NDP supporters can deepen their analysis of colonialism, and anti-colonial activists can recognize the distinctness of one struggle against colonialism from another. And we need to; Idle No More is crucial because it is not only indigenous people in Canada who need liberation and dignity – settlers too are imprisoned by capitalism, and by the world-destructive view that short term profit is the thing of most value – even more than the survival of the planet.

Shalom Belfast

This documentary, made by a Jewish-Israeli living in Northern Ireland, is a remarkable collection of perspectives on conflict and identity.

Ithamar Handelman Smith begins by investigating Unionist culture to find out why they identify so strongly with Israel. He finds it is because of their right-wing nationalism, and the similarity they see between criticism of Israel and criticism of militant Unionism in Northern Ireland. He then interviews Jews in Ireland – both people who were born into Jewish families, and people who have converted to Judaism who are also militantly pro-Israeli. Those born into Jewish families express hesitancy at the flying of Israeli flags by Unionists. Those converting or converted to Judaism express radical settler anti-Palestinian ideology, very far to the right of the journalist’s own stance on Israel. When he talks with Catholics that support Palestinian rights, he finds that it is always connected with a discourse of anti-oppression, although he never actually comments on or recognizes this.

The film ends with the filmmaker making a comment on how “ridiculous” it is that the people of northern Ireland would take up the middle east conflict after their conflict is “solved” (he does not address ongoing problems with the Good Friday agreement, such as the rise in Loyalist organized street violence or the unification of the Republican dissidents). The final claim made is that identity should not be based on states or nations but on one’s own decisions – a claim that totally ignores realities of oppression along national or ethnic lines.

Overall, I think the filmmaker is much less insightful than the film he has produced. But perhaps for this reason, it is a film very much worth watching.

EDIT: the film is back up on Youtube