December 15, 2008

The Sidebars to the Agriprocessors Fiasco

By the time you read this, bankruptcy trustee Joseph Sarachek may already be close to a deal for the sale of Agripricessors, of late rumored to be conducted by Quantum Partners of Boca Raton. So long as the $35 million bank debt is dispensed with, say the experts, a deal is possible. In the meantime, the bank has agreed to fund the kosher slaughter of some 750,000 chickens. But get this, at meeting at the Fine Arts and Civic Center in Postville last week, Sarachek told the more than 100 people present that the Rubashkin family was no longer in charge of the plant and that all decisions rested in the hands of the bankruptcy court. True, but the rumored suitors want the Rubashkins to help them run the business, probably without Sholom Rubashkin, who the prosecutor and a judge says is a flight risk. Why? Because of Israel’s Law of Return. Now no Jew can ever hope to receive bail because the federal judge in the case, Magistrate Jon Stuart Scoles, cited the Law of Return in his Nov. 20 decision denying Rubashkin bail. Rubashkin has already surrendered his passport, has agreed to house arrest and even to hiring an independent security force and the likelihood is that he would be extradited from Israel.

More oddities from Postville. The Reverend who lambasted Agriprocessors regularly and whose church was the source of many of the abuse stories that appeared in the press, is suddenly complaining about the depressed conditions in Postville. The Governor’s office, which had not shown its face throughout this ordeal for Postville and the region, suddenly showed its face in the person of Lt. Governor Patty Judge. She announced the distribution of the $698,000 grant to help those out of work with such necessities as rent, mortgage payments and utilities. Along with Judge came many elected officials who since May 12th did not show up even once. Then came the representatives of the U.S. Senators, who also had not visited the town even once. And guess who criticized them, Father Paul Ouderkirk of St. Bridget Catholic Church, who was in the press day after day bashing Agri. Father Ouderkirk said Judge and the other politicians"needed to be here sooner to see how these people have been hurting for months since the raid." Pastor Steve Brackett of St. Paul Lutheran Church added that "their appearance would have drawn quicker attention to our plight if she would have come sooner."

There has been little assistance to the hard-hit Jewish communities there who rely on occasional shipments from Crown Heights and packages from relatives. Meanwhile, two other entities that figured prominently in the demise of Agriprocessors were also in the news. A PETA-supported website took credit for closing Agriprocessors. With a “thanks for your support”, PETA includes the achievement in Postville as proof of its successes. The Forward, whose articles were quoted in an affidavit that accompanied the May 12th immigration raid in Postville, was awarded three "IPPIES" for journalistic excellence from the Independent Press Association (IPA).

The IPPIES are the only journalism awards that honor the outstanding work of New York journalists, photographers, graphic artists, editors and publishers of ethnic community press. J.J. Goldberg, the Forward's editorial director, was awarded first place in the "Best Editorial/Commentary" category for "Judging Character -- and Kashrut." The editorial, published on August 15th, traces the history of the problems at Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa and the Rubashkins's legal entanglements. At the awards dinner on Friday, December 6th, keynote speaker Julia Preston, New York Times Immigration reporter, praised the Forward and Nathaniel Popper for the "blistering report" published two years ago about problems at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa. There you have it, and the picture is not a pretty one!