The activist helming the Starbucks union drive has praised a convicted Palestinian terrorist as a "freedom fighter," called for replacing Israel with Palestine, and urged labor federations to reject police unions.
Jaz Brisack, a former Rhodes Scholar who began unionizing Starbucks while on the payroll of the Service Employees International Union, catapulted into far-left politics as a full-scholarship student at Ole Miss. While there, she defended Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh as a "political prisoner" in a 2017 op-ed letter published by the student newspaper. Brisack wanted to repudiate a story by a fellow student who referred to Odeh as a terrorist with communist ties—a description Brisack called an "ad hominem attack."
"Odeh has been targeted in an attempt to undermine her advocacy for Palestinian liberation," Brisack wrote. Odeh was convicted of coordinating two bombings, including one at an Israeli supermarket that killed two students and injured seven—including an Auschwitz survivor—and admitted her involvement to a Lebanese journalist.
"She has called attention to the fact that Israel, guilty of the crime of apartheid, illegally occupies Palestinian land and subjects the Arab population to countless indignities," Brisack continued.
These declarations could hurt 25-year-old Brisack’s star turn as the U.S. Senate spotlights her organizing efforts this week. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) on Wednesday will convene a committee hearing to grill former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz over allegations the company retaliated against Brisack and other union organizers. Schultz, who got his start as a Starbucks employee before transforming the company into a global conglomerate, recently stepped down from his interim leadership post.
Brisack’s praise for the Palestinian terrorist Odeh aligns with the progressive and anti-Israel bent of her other political beliefs, which include support for defunding police and boycotting and sanctioning Israel. Odeh became a celebrity cause for American progressives when the Trump administration deported her in 2017 for lying to obtain a fraudulent visa.
"There is no place in today's discourse for this kind of extremist rhetoric," said Charlyce Bozzello, spokeswoman for the Center for Union Facts which launched a campaign this week focused on Brisack's union. "Anyone who claims to be an advocate for workers shouldn't be praising convicted terrorists."
In 2019 Brisack also tweeted: "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free"—a dog whistle statement that calls for replacing Israel with "Palestine."
Beyond these sentiments, Brisack’s political statements exemplify the growing socialist movement in prestigious colleges and universities. Before relocating to New York for union work, Brisack attended Oxford University as Ole Miss’s first female Rhodes Scholar. She has since called for other elite students to get involved in taking down capitalism, tweeting that she would love to help "any labor organizer/anti-capitalist" finalists for the famed Truman Scholarship.
Once in New York, Brisack took a job as a Starbucks barista in 2020 to wait for the right time to organize, and simultaneously worked for the mega-union SEIU, she told CBS News.
In 2021 she sought help from Workers United, a massive labor group with more than 80,000 members, and launched Starbucks Workers United—the umbrella group that is working to unionize individual stores.
Since then, Starbucks Workers United has grown into its own celebrity cause for Big Labor progressive firebrands like Sanders, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.), and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D.), who has joined the Starbucks picket line.
Still, Brisack’s loyalty to organized labor comes second to her devotion for far-left politics. In January she retweeted a Starbucks Workers United statement urging labor federations to oust police unions from their member groups.