Women's March Leader Suggests Jewish Rights Group Working with Starbucks is Racist Against Blacks, Stirring Controversy

Starbucks' announcement that it will close over 8,000 stores on May 29 in order to tackle racial bias, following the controversial arrest of two black men at one of its Philadelphia shops, has ignited further controversy.

The multi-billion dollar corporation announced that Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP League Defense and Education Fund, Eric Holder, the US’s first Attorney General, and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt would be included in a group of leaders providing guidance on their training.

The inclusion of Greenblatt led some black advocates to label his group racist and unfit to be involved in such training, an argument that produced counter-claims of anti-Semitism. Tamika Mallory, the national co-chair of the Women’s March, and an advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement, accused the Jewish rights group of “constantly attacking black and brown people” in a statement she issued on Twitter.

She criticized the group’s relationship to Israel and its co-sponsorship of programs that send American law enforcement officers for training in that country. She urged people to boycott the coffee company, and implied that the inclusion of ADL in its training indicated a lack of seriousness in tackling issues of racial bias. The ADL has previously criticized Mallory's relationship to Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has given birth to a litany of anti-Semitic remarks throughout his career as a public speaker. 

Charges of anti-Semitism, which Mallory has previously denied, were brought up again in the wake of her tweets Wednesday.

The ADL, which has also been criticized for its relationship to Israel by prominent Jewish leftists like Noam Chomsky, tracks white supremacist groups and employs a number of the country’s most experienced and respected researchers on that subject. The ADL also has decades of experience running programs devoted to reducing racial bias in workplaces and classrooms. Newsweek reached out to the ADL but the group declined to comment on Mallory’s remarks. The group wrote on Twitter that they are proud to have been “asked to work with Starbucks to tackle the challenge of educating its nearly 175K partners on fighting implicit bias.”

Mallory, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, received blowback on social media for retweeting a thread written by a community organizer who called the ADL “anti-black and anti-Muslim.”

Jill Jacobs, the Executive Director of T’Ruah, a Jewish human rights group, spoke up in defense of the ADL on Twitter, and wrote that while she often disagrees with the group's positions on Israel, dismissing them as being “only racist ignores history.”

"The ADL is one of the oldest & most respected anti-hate groups in the US,” Jacobs, who has previously voiced support for the Women's March and urged people not to abandon the movement in the face of alleged ties to anti-Semitism, wrote. “They've long understood that fighting anti-Semitism must include fighting racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. Their legal & advocacy work is a testament to this conviction.”

The NAACP also has a long history of working with the ADL. 

Still, others offered support to Mallory’s point of view or gave voice to similar criticisms about Starbucks' selection of advisors. 

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how they chose the leadership for their anti-bias plan. Ifill, who will work alongside Greenblatt, posted a statement yesterday declaring that guiding Starbucks’ anti-bias training would take work.

“Starbucks has expressed its intention to take seriously this critical effort and to work long-term to fulfill its obligation to ensure that all customers are afforded dignity and respect in its public spaces,” she wrote. "This will take work. Starbucks must make clear that it does not tolerate any racial profiling or discrimination of any kind in its stores, and it must identify and implement concrete and measurable steps to keep itself accountable to that commitment."