June 16, 2008

The ill-advised and ill-conceived boycott against Agriprocessors

Since this column is about Agriprocessors, I begin with the disclaimer that my firm LUBICOM Marketing Consulting does on occasion represent Agriprocessors. In May 1902, 20,000 women influenced by the emerging labor and women's suffrage movements, declared a boycott against the myriad of small kosher butcher shops that dotted the Lower East Side, who dared to increase prices by some 15% - 18%. The women were encouraged by leftist Jewish worker's movements and the left-leaning Forward. Most of the stores were owned by refugees, some of which mis-spelled 'Bosor Kosher' (kosher meat) as 'Bosor Bosor.' 106 years later, a leftist modern Orthodox group known as Uri L'Tzedek is using that boycott as its precedent for a boycott against products produced by Agriprocessors. The group consists of students of the Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT), left of the mainstream Modern Orthodox establishments. Its rabbis have adopted programs, particularly on ecumenical dialogues, that were diametrically opposed to the teachings of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, considered the leading halachic authority of modern Orthodoxy in the 20th century, and whose extensive works still guide modern Orthodox Jewish and institutions like Yeshiva University and the Rabbinical Council of America. When I met with the group recently, they raised all of the issues in the allegations against Agriprocessors that were contained in the federal affidavit that led to the raid in Postville, Iowa more than a month ago. It did not seem to matter to them that a call for a boycott based on allegations was unprecedented, the 1902 boycott notwithstanding. It appeared to be irrelevant that even the Conservative and Reform called for a 're-evaluation' of purchasing products manufactured by Agri but refrained from calling for a boycott. The Uri L'Tzedek activists were not phased by the fact that the boycott might be damaging to a company that supplies a significant portion of the kosher meat in the country and which has been responsible for keeping prices down. There was little concern that hundreds of Jewish families in Postville would be hurt, or that the plant is closely monitored by a large team of USDA inspectors and rabbis. Even supermarket chains regularly audit the plant and, in fact, asked for their own investigation, again unprecedented.

In their letter to Mr. Aaron Rubashkin, the founder and owner of Agriprocessors, the Uri L'Tzedekraised issues such as humane slaughter,despite the fact that thelast five independent audits gave the plant high marks for its humane slaughter practices. They also referenced the undocumented workers, even when the plant had hired a former U.S. attorney, Jim Martin, to deal with compliance issues during a time when undocumented workers are a huge problem for America. The leftist leaning Orthodox activists challenged Agri about the low pay without a shred of evidence that this was true and also raised concern about some 39 violations that are routine for slaughterhouses and which have been addressed long ago and are under the noses of a large team of USDA on-site inspectors.The Uri L'Tzedek also citedunsubstantiated rumors about child labor and stories of abuse. In other words, they bought the propaganda of the UFCW and the PETA activists and called for a boycott against a company that is working around the clock to restore the supply of kosher meats all over America. The call for the boycott is against the Torah that they claim to represent andis shameful, shortsighted and despicable. Thankfully, the evidence is clear that most consumers are rejecting the lynch mob mentality that has been unleashed by some against Agriprocessors, not even waiting for the results of a federal investigation. In fact, many customers are insisting on buying Agriprocessors. Way to go for fair-minded and decent people!