Protesters close Starbucks branches in Beirut and London

starbucks-  beirut protest.jpg

About one hundred demonstrators converged on the west Beirut coffee shop, waving signs condemning Israel and blocking the door after employees inside turned out the lights.

The protest in Beirut is the latest of a series of demonstrations across the Arab world since Israel launched its offensive, designed to stop Hamas rocket fire into Israel, on Dec. 27; more than 900 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting.

The protesters said they targeted the store because they claim that Howard Schultz, the company’s CEO, chairman and president, donates money to the Israeli military. A spokeswoman for the Seattle, Washington-based conglomerate called accusations Starbucks supports Israel “false” and said the political preferences of one of its employees has no bearing on the company’s policies.

The demonstrators hung several banners on the shop’s window and used white tape to paste a Star of David over the company’s green-and-white Starbucks sign.

“The children of Lebanon and Palestine warn that Starbucks drinks lead to buying deadly weapons,” read one of the banners.

The protesters also distributed a letter in English and Arabic saying Schultz “is one of the pillars of the American Jewish lobby and the owner of the Starbucks,” which the protesters said donates money to the Israeli military.

Starbucks is not owned by Schultz but is a publicly traded company, with stores in 49 countries.

A spokeswoman for Starbucks Tuesday referred questions about the protesters’ allegations about Starbucks to a company statement released earlier this month.

In the statement the company said “rumors that Starbucks Coffee Company and its management support Israel are unequivocally false.”

“Starbucks is a non-political organization and does not support political causes. Further, the political preferences of a Starbucks partner (employee) at any level have absolutely no bearing on Starbucks company policies,” the statement read.

Trevino also referred questions about the Beirut protest to the company’s venture partner in the Middle East, Kuwait-based M.H. Alshaya Co. The Middle East stores are not directly owned by Starbucks but are licensed by M.H. Alshaya, she said.

Repeated calls by The Associated Press to M.H. Alshaya’s head office in Kuwait went unanswered late Tuesday.

Lebanese security officials said the protesters did not target other Starbucks locations in Beirut.

Starbucks has been operating in Lebanon for several years and has 16 branches around the country, according to the company’s Web site.

A Starbucks in London also attacked

In a related incident another a Starbucks branch on Whitechapel Road in London, England has been attacked and firebombed in a suspected anti-Israeli protest.

Detectives are investigating the attack

Scotland Yard said the attack was “racially motivated” following Israel’s invasion of Gaza. …The US company’s chief executive Howard Schultz is Jewish and Starbucks has been targeted for its pro-Israeli stance.

Another branch of the chain in Kensington High Street was ransacked during recent protests although police do not know if it was deliberately targeted.

The incident comes as prominent British Jews have been advised to review their security after several were identified on Islamist websites as “financial supporters of Israel”.

Scotland Yard is increasingly concerned about the possibility of “reprisal” attacks on Jewish people and buildings. Anti-Semitic incidents have increased in recent weeks with a synagogue firebombed in north London and anti-Israeli graffiti appearing in many Jewish areas.

Starbucks confirmed the attack in a statement today, saying: “None of our partners [employees] or customers were affected. The store is currently closed and we are fully co-operating with the local authorities as they carry out investigations at the premises.”

Photo: A Lebanese protester shouts anti-Israeli slogans during a demonstration held by leftist groups to protest against the Israel’s ground attack on the Gaza Strip, in front a Starbucks Coffee shop, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday Jan. 13, 2009.

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