Is Rachael Ray, the talk-show host, cookbook author and magazine editor, a terrorist sympathizer?
Dunkin' Donuts, worried that its customers might think so, abruptly yanked an ad in which Ray wears a scarf that resembles a keffiyeh -- a traditional headdress worn by Arab men -- after conservative commentators became enraged by the ad and even threatened to boycott the company.
Ray, who signed on as the company's pitchwoman last March, will continue to appear in other ads and commercials.
The controversial ad, which appeared earlier this month on the doughnut chain's Web site to promote its iced coffee, came under fire nearly two weeks ago when pro-Jewish blogger Pam Geller posted it under the headline "Rachel [sic] Ray: Dunkin Donuts Jihad Tool."
"Have you seen Rachel [sic] Ray wearing the icon of Yasser Arafatbastard and the bloody Islamic jihad," Geller wrote. "This is part of the cultural jihad."
Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin took up the cause last week, when she wrote on her Web site michellemalkin.com: "The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not so ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities and left-wing icons."
After pulling the ad May 24, Dunkin' Donuts issued a statement from Margie Myers, senior vice president of communications for Dunkin' Brands: "In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by the stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, as of this past weekend, we are no longer using the online ad because the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."
Ray's publicist Charlie Dougiello wrote in a e-mail, "This is a nonstory."
He confirmed that Ray was wearing a black and white scarf with a paisley floral design that was chosen by the stylist for the shoot and echoed Dunkin's statement. "Absolutely no symbolism was intended," he said. "However, given the possibility of misperception, Dunkin is no longer using the commercial."
Debbie Schlussel, a Detroit attorney who writes a daily column for her conservative Web site debbieschlussel.com., said, "I think they [Dunkin' Donuts] ought to be applauded for that."
But Laila Al-Qatami, spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League, a Washington-based civil rights and cultural organization, believes that this is all much ado about nothing. "I think Dunkin' Donuts jumped the gun," she said, adding that the scarf's mere resemblance to a keffiyeh makes the company's action seem "unreasonable."
Al-Qatami says the real keffiyeh has been worn for decades by Arab men to protect their heads from the heat. More recently, the black keffiyeh has become associated with the Palestinian people because of Arafat's frequent use of it.
Favored in the 1980s by supporters of the Palestinian cause, these days the keffiyeh is just as likely to make a fashion statement as a political one. Trendy clothing store Urban Outfitters initially sold keffiyeh-like scarves until Jewish customers protested, according to commentator Malkin, but reintroduced them with different colors in several global markets. Fashion house Balenciaga glamorized them on the runway.
When celebrities and public figures don them, however, they are likely to draw heat. Before Ray's recent keffiyeh kerfuffle, there was the racket over Ricky Martin. Three years ago, the pop singer wore a red keffiyeh to show support for Palestinian human rights, Al-Qatami said.
When he learned that it had been inscribed with the phrase "Jerusalem is ours" in Arabic, he apologized, saying, "I had no idea that the keffiyeh scarf presented to me contained language referring to Jerusalem, and I apologize to anyone who might think I was endorsing its message."
Other celebrities, such as Collin Farrell, Mary Kate Olsen and Kanye West, have been singled out by Malkin for wearing "hate couture."
Al-Qatami believes people like Malkin and Schlussel are overreacting. "It's just an article of clothing," she said. "It only carries that kind of symbolism for people like Debbie Schlussel, who are promoting fear of Arabs."
Schlussel, the Detroit attorney and blogger, disagrees. She compares the keffiyeh to the Ku Klux Klan's white hoods. "People need to realize it's not just clothing," she said. "It's come to symbolize the garb of terrorism."
Schlussel said it's no accident that in some pictures and videos of Islamic terrorists who have kidnapped and killed Americans, their faces are covered with a keffiyeh.
In February, she took John McCain's daughter Meghan to task when several pictures surfaced of her wearing keffiyehs. In one, her mother, Cindy, sits beside Meghan, who has the headscarf wrapped around her neck. "It didn't occur to her that her daughter shouldn't be wearing that," Schlussel said. "The possible future first lady doesn't see that?
"People need to be educated," she added. "I think they can't have an excuse these days when wearing that."