When a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called the police after two black men refused to leave, the chain of events ended with the burnt taste of the overpriced coffee chain colluding with anti-Semitism.
Starbucks reacted to the brief arrest by blaming the police, but Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is African-American, initially said that his officers, “did absolutely nothing wrong”. But then he was forced to offer a bewildering apology to the arrested men, the officers and the entire city.
“It is me who in large part made most of the situation worse than it was,” he announced.
But that wasn’t Ross. It was Black Lives Matter and other black nationalist groups which targeted the coffee chain, chanting, “Starbucks coffee is anti-black”. And to appease them, Starbucks rolled out a major company retraining effort overseen by former Attorney General Eric Holder, along with Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP, Heather McGhee of Demos and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL. Greenblatt was the only non-black civil rights leader on the list.
And, like a cup of overpriced Starbucks coffee, the burnt taste got worse the deeper you went.
In February, Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam had delivered a violently anti-Semitic speech to an appreciative audience that included Tamika Mallory. "White folks are going down," the hate group leader had declared. "And Farrakhan, by God's grace, has pulled the cover off of that Satanic Jew."
Farrakhan had praised Mallory and the Women’s March leader had dubbed him the greatest of all time. Nor was she the only Women’s March leader with a crush on the black nationalist bigot. Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez had their own Farrakhan fandom. And despite pressure, the radical leftist org had refused to condemn Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, but continued to defend the hate group.
In the Greenblatt era, the ADL had become even more tentative about challenging anti-Semitism on the left. It had been largely absent in the battles over campus anti-Semitism, had defended some forms of BDS and had attacked Jewish civil rights activists, such as Canary Mission, for fighting for Jewish rights.
But the ADL took credit for condemning Mallory’s attendance and support for Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam’s anti-Semitism had been widely denounced. And the ADL didn’t think it was taking much of a risk.
When Starbucks made its retraining announcement, Mallory and her allies were quick to pounce. They berated the coffee chain for working with an “anti-black” organization. The dispute split the left between black nationalists and establishment groups. Mallory was joined by Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, while Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress, called them out.
“Women of color who promote anti-Semitism -- defending Farrakhan and attacking ADL - are deserving of criticism and I say that as a woman of color.” Tanden had retorted sharply.
But the brief shining moment of decency on the left quickly vanished as Starbucks dumped the ADL.
In the dispute between black nationalist Farrakhan fans and the ADL, Starbucks chose anti-Semitism. The coffee chain was spending money buying immunity from protests by Tamika’s allies. There was no reason for it to continue working with the ADL if the organization not only couldn’t protect it from angry protesters, but if its Jewish associations might actually incite even more attacks on its businesses.
And the rest of the Starbucks social justice deck would have been more likely to lean toward Mallory.
As Attorney General, Eric Holder had become notorious for his collaboration with black racist and anti-Semitic groups, including The New Black Panther Party and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund had participated in the Women’s March. And the NAACP has its own troubling history with Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Tossing the ADL overboard, the corporate leadership of Starbucks showed that it would fight racism, but collude with anti-Semitism. And it wasn’t the first time Starbucks had colluded with anti-Semitism.
"Neither Starbucks nor the company’s chairman, president and CEO Howard Schultz provide financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army in any way," the press release assured.
It stated that its Israeli stores were closed and that its business plans for the region would be developed with a Kuwaiti family. Kuwait has been known to boycott companies doing business with Israel.
The press release insisted that Starbucks is "a non-political organization." Except that’s a lie.
Starbucks had pushed for gun control, cheered gay marriage and refugee migration. The coffee chain hadn’t been worried about the resulting boycotts. It was only concerned about offending customers with certain views. Those views have always included anti-Semitism.
The politically correct coffee chain dropped the ADL for the same reason it had disavowed Israel.
It would have been unthinkable for Starbucks to have put out a press release assuring the KKK that it didn’t do business with black people. Or that it didn’t donate to gay marriage or to Muslim groups.
It’s never been proven that the Philly Starbucks had racist motivations, but the entire company has a consistent history of blatantly pandering to anti-Semites that is as bitter as its dark roast.
The Starbucks double standard on anti-Semitism is the same one that pervades the left.
From Jesse “Hymietown” Jackson to the Women’s March, civil rights has required a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with anti-Semitism. Al Sharpton led a race riot through a Jewish neighborhood and was rewarded for it with a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention, an MSNBC show and easy access to Obama and Holder. Mallory had been photographed with Farrakhan, but so had Obama.
And then there’s the NAACP, whose legal defense fund had also been enlisted by Starbucks.
NAACP leaders have repeatedly appeared with Farrakhan. Benjamin Chavis, who had become notorious for convening a summit with the Nation of Islam, later joined the hate group. Ben Jealous, currently running for the governor of Maryland, appeared at forums attended by Farrakhan.
That’s how we ended up with Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour. And Louis Farrakhan.
The post-King era has erroneously conflated racial tribalism with civil rights. Its civil rights leaders are invariably black nationalists and that’s why they find it so hard to resist Farrakhan’s racist supremacism.
Starbucks could have rejected both racism and anti-Semitism. But that’s too much work. Like most corporations, it doesn’t partner with racial healers, but racial dividers. They’re the ones who threaten its bottom line. And they’re the ones who are seen as having credibility with the radicals on the street.
The real lesson here is for the ADL which tried to have it both ways. Under Greenblatt, it wanted to belong to the social justice axis while paying lip service to the fight against anti-Semitism. It did the least that it could do to challenge anti-Semitism on the left. And even that proved to be too much for the left.
There’s no room on the left for even the mildest criticisms of anti-Semitism from the left.
Like Starbucks, the ADL will have to choose between fighting anti-Semitism and pandering to the left. And, like Starbucks, it is likely to drop anti-Semitism as the price of admission for staying on the left.
Starbucks will go on touting its commitment to fighting racism even as it colludes with anti-Semitism. And the ADL will criticize anti-Semitism from white nationalists, but not black nationalists, from the right but not the left, and hope that the overpriced coffee chain will welcome it back with some burnt coffee.
Because there’s no price to pay for anti-Semitism, but there is a bitter price for fighting anti-Semitism.