ARAB AMERICAN NEWS
Friday, 09.04.2009, 10:35pm
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The city of Ann Arbor has long been a hotspot for the Boycott Israel movement, and a group of the most fervent Palestinian rights activists continued that tradition Wednesday, protesting a meeting between Starbucks employees and CEO Howard Schultz.
Schultz's meeting was held at the Cobblestone Farm and Park in Ann Arbor while 13 protestors demonstrated and waved signs with phrases like "Boycott Israel" and "No More Apartheid" to thousands of passing motorists.
"It was important to convey that there is serious concern on the part of people of Ann Arbor about human rights violations in Gaza and Palestine," said protestor Mozghan Savabieasfahani. "As a general thing we have asked the city to boycott Israel and we protest when people have come to promote more business with Israel, that's the message we want to get out."
The protestors, many of whom were Ann Arbor citizens, have taken issue with Schultz and the company because of Schultz's alleged ties with Israel and Zionism.
They cited a June 2002 Independent World article by Robert Fisk in which he stated that Schultz was awarded the "Israeli 50th Anniversary Tribute Award" in 1998 from the Jerusalem Fund of Aish Ha-Torah, which is strongly critical of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and insists that the occupied Palestinian territories should be described only as "disputed."
Schultz also gave a speech at the height of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's reoccupation of West Bank towns condemning Palestinian "inaction" and announced that "the Palestinians aren't doing their job – they're not stopping terrorism" in 2002 according to the article.
The Starbucks corporate office called ongoing boycotts "disheartening" and "based on blatant untruths" in an e-mail statement. The statement also said that Starbucks remains a "non-political organization" and that allegations that the company provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or army are "unequivocally false." The e-mail also pointed out that Starbucks operates 280 stores in nine countries in the Middle East.
Protestor Susan Hajhassan of Dearborn said that interest was high for the protest.
"I did notice a change in the overall reaction of people that passed by; in past protests we would get a lot of negative reactions, however this time there were more positive then negative which I found interesting," she said. "We had people stop, just wanting to know what the whole situation was about, which is positive for our cause."
Ann Arbor citizens have a long history of pushing for anti-Israel product boycotts. In 1984, more than 5,000 signatures were collected and presented to Ann Arbor's city council in an attempt to place a resolution urging the withholding of U.S. aid to Israel on the city ballot in April but the measure was never voted on. A similar measure was later defeated by a 6-4 vote that year.
Despite those setbacks, protestors continue to believe that their message will be heard and remain undaunted in their efforts.
"For 25 years people have been pushing in Ann Arbor for the council to pass a resolution but the city has just stonewalled the whole issue even up to today," said Blaine Coleman, a long-time protestor. "We're demanding it here and we're hoping that the people can demand a similar boycott of Israeli products in Dearborn as well from their city council."