The Other Coffee Boycott

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Minneapolis A well orchestrated nationwide email campaign by Jewish individuals against Caribou Coffee, USA’s second largest chain of specialty coffeehouses, has been called off after the company and its Islamic investor bank disassociated themselves from Sh. Yusuf Al Qaradawi. For past several months Jewish chatrooms, email listserves and synagogues were abuzz with rumors that Caribou Coffee “indirectly funds terrorism.” Caribou Coffee is owned 87.8% by the Bahrain based First Islamic Investment Bank which until recently had Sh.Yusuf Al Qaradawi as the chairman of its Shariah Supervisory Board.

The email campaign against Caribou, began soon after after Atlanta based Crescent Capital which is backed by First Islamic Bank acquired a majority stake in the company in December 2000. The emails accused Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi of making anti-Israeli statements and called for a boycott of Caribou unless and until it severs its ties with the scholar. Al Qaradawi was the chairman of the bank’s Shariah Board since its inception in 1997. The emails also mentioned Al Qaradawi’s association with a Palestinian charity,I’tilaf al Khayr. The charity is not on any of the federal lists of organizations that support terrorism.

Eventhough the boycott call wasn’t backed by any of the major Jewish organizations, several Jews were reported to have quietly boycotted Caribou for several months. Amidst this controversy, Al Qaradawi recently retired from First Islamic. Gaye Bentham, spokesperson of First Islamic Investment Bank, insists that the Caribou boycott campaign had nothing to do with Al Qaradawi’s retirement. In response to a question by this correspondent Bentham responded:

“It is with reluctance that we have accepted Dr. Yusuf Abdullah Al-Qaradawi’s long contemplated decision to retire from his position as Chairman of First Islamic’s Shari’ah Supervisory Board. Dr. Al-Qaradawi has acted as Chairman of the Bank’s Shari’ah Board since its inception in 1997 and we are grateful for his wise counsel and service to First Islamic.

Dr. Al-Qaradawi’s decision to step down from First Islamic’s Shari’ah Board will enable him to devote more time to his many personal interests, and we wish him every success with future endeavors.”

“Kindly note that this is unrelated to the Caribou boycott campaign,” she added.

However a July 11th letter from Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota & the Dakotas (JCRC) claims that Caribou and First Islamic have “severed” their ties with Al Qaradawi. The letter reads: “JCRC’s respectful and fair approach has helped influence First Islamic Bank to sever ties with Youssef Al-Qaradawi, who until recently was chair of First Islamic’s Islamic law advisory committee, provide JCRC with their list of charitable donations and make a strong statement rejecting the Arab League boycott of Israel.”

It further states: “First Islamic has issued a statement rejecting the Arab League boycott of Israel. First Islamic says that the one business it owns that is worldwide in nature maintains a distributorship in Israel. First Islamic also says it has no restrictive policies with regard to Israel or Jews. It has numerous business relationships with Jewish attorneys and investment bankers. Caribou has told us it has no plans to expand internationally, and that it has received no instruction to avoid business with Israel or Jews.”

First Islamic has also hired a major law firm’s Washington D.C. office to review its charitable donations. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher has certified that no charitable contributions go to groups banned under U.S. law.

On its Shariah Supervisory Board, First Islamic retains Shaikh Abdullah Sulaiman Al Meneea, Dr.Abdul Sattar Abdul Kareem Abu Ghuddah and Justice Muhammad Taqi Usmani.

Intriguingly while the Arab boycott campaign against Starbucks (Caribou’s main competitor) gained widespread media coverage, the controversy surrounding Caribou went virtually unnoticed with only a few newspapers covering it.

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