Starbucks drops ADL from bias training amid protests

Coffee chain denies political pressure behind decision to relegate Jewish group to consulting role

Starbucks logo (photo credit: Marco Paköeningrat, via Flickr, CC-BY-SA)
Starbucks logo (photo credit: Marco Paköeningrat, via Flickr, CC-BY-SA)

The Anti-Defamation League is no longer taking a leading role in next month’s diversity training at Starbucks stores across the United States, serving instead in an consulting role.

Initially, the Jewish watchdog’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, was one of four civil rights leaders tapped to develop the coffee giant’s all-day anti-bias training next month across its 8,000 US locations. The training was announced following outrage at the arrest of two black men waiting to meet a business associate at a Philadelphia Starbucks store.

The other three civil rights leaders — Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative and Heather McGhee off the liberal think tank Demos — will still be leading the training.

But Starbucks announced in a press release last week that the ADL will now be one of “a diverse array of organizations and civil rights experts” that Starbucks will consult. Other groups in the consulting role include those combating anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT and anti-Latino bigotry.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO And National Director of the Anti-Defamation League testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on responses to the increase in religious hate crimes. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Starbucks did not specify why Greenblatt was no longer serving in a leadership capacity, although the ADL chief noted in a tweet that the training will focus specifically on race. The three activists leading the training are all people of color. The ADL combats bigotry of all kinds, but focuses on fighting anti-Semitism.

Greenblatt appeared to react positively to the scaled back role. He tweeted that the ADL “will be there every step of the way” to assist Starbucks, and acknowledged that “this is an issue of race. And so we are ready to listen, learn &share our expertise+experience where we can.”

His original role was criticized by left wing activists who objected to, among other things, ADL’s work with police departments and its support of Israel. One of the most prominent critics was Tamika Mallory, one of the leaders of the Women’s March, whom the ADL has criticized for supporting Louis Farrakhan, a virulent anti-Semite.

One of the groups that had protested the ADL’s role was Jewish Voice for Peace, which advocates for a boycott of Israel. JVP, which has campaigned against an ADL program that brings American police officers to Israel for counter-terrorism training, praised Starbucks in a press release.

“The demotion of the ADL from a leadership role is a clear reflection of the recognition by a wide variety of social justice organizations and individuals that the ADL’s status as a civil rights organization is compromised given its history and practices of anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian, and anti-Black racism,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, JVP’s executive director, stated in the press release.

Women’s March National Co-Chair Tamika Mallory speaking in New York, April 22, 2017. (Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Hulu via JTA)

Much of their criticism is based on an allegation, which ADL and participants deny, that American police officers learn techniques in Israel that they use to abuse minority communities back home.

On Monday, a Starbucks spokesperson denied to Politico that dropping the ADL from the training due to political pressure, saying the company was “architecting a multi-phase approach to addressing bias.”

“We have a lot of amazing advisers, and we also realized this can’t be a one-time thing,” she told the news website. “The training can’t be the beginning and end.”

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