Starbucks’ Schultz, raised in Jewish Brooklyn, mulls presidential run

Worth an estimated $3.3 billion, Schultz would presumably self-fund a campaign that would require him to earn name recognition across the country.

Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz delivers remarks at the Starbucks 2016 Investor Day in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 7, 2016.  (photo credit: ANDREW KELLY / REUTERS)
Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz delivers remarks at the Starbucks 2016 Investor Day in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 7, 2016.
(photo credit: ANDREW KELLY / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a Jewish American who is reportedly mulling an independent run for the presidency, is one of several potential Jewish contenders in the 2020 race.
Others so far include Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Schultz has spoken out frequently on how his Judaism has affected his life path and his worldview. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Schultz says his Jewish upbringing and heritage enhanced his understanding of the American dream.
“I grew up in federally subsidized housing in Brooklyn,” Schultz wrote in 2002. “I was part of a generation of families that dreamed about the American dream. My dad had a series of blue-collar jobs.”
At the end of the prologue of his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, published in 1997, he explains the Jewish tradition of yahrzeit – a practice he follows for his deceased father each year – and its symbolic significance for the work he does in life. “I just don’t want that light to go out,” he said.
Growing up in Brooklyn with Jewish, Italian and black kids, he wrote also taught him the values of pluralism and diversity – core liberal tenets that have shaped his politics. “Nobody ever had to lecture us about diversity,” he wrote. “We lived it.”
He also notes in his book that the unlikely expansion of Starbucks ultimately rested on a triumvirate of Seattle philanthropists who were active in the Jewish community – developers behind some of the “sturdiest businesses” in town. Their ultimate angel investment put the company over the top.
According to Inside Philanthropy, Schultz and his wife have donated sporadically to small, local Jewish organizations. And Schultz was offered an award by Aish Hatorah, a Jewish Orthodox pro-Israel group, in 1998. But Schultz’s level of observance and the extent of his activity in the community are not immediately clear.
Nevertheless, his collective writings and policy-related actions at Starbucks suggest an active Jewish life.
At one point in 2002, Schultz wrote about a transformative experience he had in the 1990s on a work trip to Israel with Starbucks colleagues, with Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who once headed the Mir Yeshiva.
“Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” The rabbi asked to a befuddled crowd.
Teaching them a lesson on the “human spirit,” Schultz writes, Finkel explained to them the dehumanizing experience Jews went through corralled into cattle cars, sent to death camps, given a single blanket for every five people, and having to make the choice, in their last living days, to stay warm in their blanket or to share it with others.
“Take your blanket,” the rabbi explained. “Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”
Schultz led Starbucks through much of its growth into the iconic American company it is today. The coffee chain briefly entered the Israeli market, but closed all of its stores there in 2003 citing “operational challenges.”
An early boycott effort targeting Israel in 2014 attacked Starbucks with conspiratorial rumors that the company was directly funding the Israeli government and the IDF – rumors that grew so loud and widespread that the company was forced to address both its general investments in Israel as well as Schultz’s personal donations to Israeli causes.
At the time, Starbucks clarified that it had not pulled out in 2003 for reasons “related to political issues.”
“Starbucks does not support any political or religious causes, and that holds true for Howard as well,” a spokesman for the company said. “There’s no financial support from Howard or the company to the Israeli government for any purposes.”
Worth an estimated $3.3 billion, Schultz would presumably self-fund a campaign that would require him to earn name recognition across the country.
An advocate of “conscious capitalism” at Starbucks, Schultz has criticized the direction of the Democratic Party for its failure to address the national debt and its willingness to increase it with massive welfare programs, such as Medicare for All.
Little is known of Schultz’s foreign policy positions. But on social issues, Schultz aligns squarely with the Democratic Party.
He spoke out passionately for change in the days after a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, shook the nation in 2017.
“I come to you as an American, as a Jew, as a parent, as a grandparent, as an almost 40-year partner of this company,” Schultz said as he opened a forum covered by Starbucks’ internal press shop. “I come to you with profound, profound concern about the lack of character, morality, humanity and what this might mean for young children and young generations that are growing up at a time in which we are imprinting them with levels of behaviors and conduct that are beneath the United States of America.
“I know we are better than this,” Schultz continued. “The moral fiber, the values, and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss. We are at a critical juncture in American history. That is not an exaggeration. We are at and facing a crucible in which our daily life is being challenged and being questioned about what is right and what is wrong.”
And in line with Jewish American organizations, Schultz was appalled by Trump’s effort to block refugee entry into the US, rolling out a policy that Starbucks would hire 10,000 refugees over a five-year period.
Schultz first began teasing an independent run for the Oval Office on CBS’s 60 Minutes this weekend, claiming that both major parties have contributed to a dangerous breakdown in American politics.
The prospect of an independent Schultz bid is alarming to Democrats, that yet another third-party bid would splinter off votes from their coalition and smooth President Donald Trump’s pathway to reelection.
Schultz supported Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, in 2016, and has called Trump unfit for the presidency.
“We’re living at a most fragile time,” Schultz told the CBS program. “Not only the fact that this president is not qualified to be the president, but the fact that both parties are consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged, every single day, in revenge politics.”