Culture, Global, Justice, Religion

Holey Cow!

slash beef
Failed Messiah and Gawker report on the latest (what? Not over yet?) scandal in the kashrut world. After the last round of scandals, Agriprocessors hired a PR firm – because as we all know, Public Relations is far preferable to tshuvah when a corporation sins- to restore its image. The firm, 5WPR, who has also represented the charming so-called “pro-Israel” pastor, John Hagee, (who hates homosexuals and Muslims and has had to apologize for sliming Catholics, oh, yeah and also blamed Jews for the death of Jesus, called liberal Jews “poisoned” and “spiritually blind,” and been relatively unconcerned that he hopes for a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran even though he believes it will lead to the deaths of most Jews in Israel) apparently has engaged in some antics of its own.
It seems that 5WPR has left multiple comments on several blogs, including JTA and Failed Messiah’s, under a variety of aliases, and also posing as Rabbi Morris Allen of the Hekhsher Tzedek, as well as JVNA officer John Diamond and another frequent FailedMessiah commenter (all, as FM points out, federal crimes). The comments were designed to support Agri, bolster one another and discredit Hekhsher Tzedek, the Conservative Movement and Rabbi Allen. Failed Messiah posts screen shots of the comments – well worth looking at, if only for their utter ridiculousness.

The firm blamed this completely technologically incompetent farce on an “intern,” who has been “fired.” I suppose for misspelling Allen’s name. I’d fire an intern who was that dumb, too. However, as Gawker points out, “news service JTA is severely undercutting this explanation by reporting it traced one of the fake comments to Engelmayer’s home (in part by matching the internet address of a comment to the internet address of an Engelmayer email).” Oh, yeah, also, did we mention that the first two of these faker posts appeared in February, “before any summer interns were working at 5W.” If not, FM did.
Both the PR firm and Agri have denied that this was part of their PR plan, although since that firm is apparently noted for its internet expertise (a claim which ought now to be called into question in general) I’ve been wondering if that newspaper ad on the Agri that everyone knows and loves wasn’t some sort of blind.
I think that it’s interesting that the PR “intern” (and I’m SO sure this had nothing to do with Agri and the firm’s PR plan) accused the Conservative movement of having their guns out for Agri in particular, and kashrut in general. In trying to present Hekhsher Tzedek/Allen/ keeping up the boycott as attacking kashrut (or at least kosher meat) in general, rather than one particular company, they reveal an interesting pathology. Despite the fact that Agri is the major supplier of kosher meat in this country, they aren’t all of kosher meat, even in the USA. Suggesting that the Conservative Movement is trying to horn in on commercial kashrut oversight (which is what several Orthodox authorities accused them of from the beginning, despite the fact that it’s utter -and obviously so- nonsense. It’s so absurd an accusation that it’s at least good for a laugh. Which means that probably a lot of people believe it) makes one wonder if certain persons have been imbibing from the same fountains that cause Anti-Semites to believe that Jews run all the banks. Have they noticed the level of internal organization in that movement? Maybe they should get out more.
CEO Torossian reveals the subtext however in the JTA article, saying, “This battle is not about blogging, it is however about protecting the highest levels of Kashrut in the Jewish community. We as a firm feel personally and professionally passionate about these, and related issues. Critics of traditional Judaism have chosen to smear the largest provider of the highest level kashrut meat in the world. We stand with protecting kashrut.” Yeah, right. And that surely came from the PR firm and not at all from Agri.
It’s pretty clear that the underlying goal is actually two things – aside from the reflexive slamming of the Conservativim, the goal is to:
-Demonstrate that this is an “us vs. them” issue, “them” in this case being the Conservative movement, who as we all know care more about destroying kashrut than about ethics, and couldn’t possibly care about the relevant ethical halakhot or be peeved at the chillul hashem that this has provided in making us – Jews (since Conservative Jews don’t reflexively count out the Orthodox as Jews) odious in the eyes of all sorts of people around the world.
-Prevent those who have legitimate criticisms of Uri L’Tzedek’s revoking of the boycott at this point from airing them; in the liberal world because they will now (or again, or still,) be written off as not really following Judaism, despite the fact that the very Jews who care about this are most likely those who are at least somewhat traditional in their following of kashrut, AND it will discredit those within Orthodoxy from continuing to pressure Agri because then they will be tagged as outsiders, and not really Orthodox (which already seems to be the tack taken against Uri L’tzedek in a number of places when they instituted the boycott).
Suggesting that anyone who actually does think that they haven’t done enough and it’s not yet time to call off the boycott – which is not unreasonable, since there’s no real evidence of tshuva- is then automatically a heretic or worse, a Conservative, is a slick move. Will it work? It seems to be, at least in some communities, as can be seen from the vomiting forth of diatribes against the Conservatim. Any chance of tshuvah? Well let’s see: Apologize, Be Contrite, Confess to God, Do Restitution and when the opportunity arises Don’t Repeat the Offense. I’ll grant that we can’t know whether they’ve confessed to God or not, but let’s see the others:
Not engaging in the same or similar behavior when the opportunity presents itself – well, no go, since they’re importing homeless and defrauding them
….Apologies? How about this beaut: can’t possibly admit what you’re doing wrong and fix it, better to whine,
Why are you picking onmeeeeeee and just blame the government,

Nathan Lewin, a prominent attorney representing the company, is accusing the U.S. government of “selective prosecution” in its targeting of the company.
“The government should be asked why it picked on Agri, a relatively small meat-packing plant, to make its point about illegal immigrants working at such plants,” Lewin wrote in a statement to JTA. “This is a great injustice in light of the fact that Agri has made a major contribution to Jewish religious life in the U.S. by providing high-quality packaged kosher meats now available in supermarkets across the country.
“The Orthodox Jewish community should call the government to account for the damage it is doing by this selective prosecution of Agri.”

Let’s then make a stab at confession. That would involve not lying, right?

“The ad further claims that rabbinical supervisors are present “in all parts of the plant, with no exception.” That claim contradicts an account by Rabbi Seth Mandel, the head of meat supervision for the Orthodox Union, one of the supervising agencies certifying Agriprocessors as kosher.
According to a May 26 e-mail obtained by JTA, Mandel wrote, “I go all over the plant when I visit, and the mashgichim that work for the OU also do, but only into areas where meat is processed. We do not visit the water treatment plant, nor the sheds where some materials are stored, nor houses where gentile workers live.”

or another example

The ad states that “Agriprocessors was never faced with a government imposed recall” for food contamination. But according to a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, there is no such thing as a government-imposed recall. All recalls are voluntary; Agriprocessors had two last year.
In July 2007, the company recalled about 35,000 pounds of frozen beef and chicken products because the label failed to indicate the foods may contain a known allergen. In January that year, the company recalled about 2,700 pounds of hot dogs due to possible underprocessing.

and on this last topic, if they’re trying to claim that they’re actually following US law on proper slaughtering procedures, just a reminder:uhuh.
And I don’t even want to try to address restitution. Is Agri providing legal counsel for the illegals? Are they making sure their families are adequately fed and housed? That might be a good start.
But if there’s going to be any honesty going around here, we have to say: it isn’t enough.
I would suggest that in fact, this very farce is evidence that we very well ought to be keeping the boycott going. I doubt quite firmly that in fact, the PR firm or Agri knew nothing about this. In fact, I think it reeks of clever and slick. It just wasn’t quite clever or slick enough, thanks to someone not really understanding how the “series of tubes” works.
Best bit, check out Gawker follow up on the PR firm’s self-promotion and fake apology which isn’t an apology.
I hope R. Allen sues the C*** out of them.

3 thoughts on “Holey Cow!

  1. First I have to say, I saw this story on Friday before Shabbat and I like your version better–it’s deeper–you must be doing some of the best work on this on the web.
    Have you seen this video of the interpreter for the Agriprocessor workers? It’s at the NYT website. They don’t say that it’s Agriprocessors, just that he was working for “illegal immigrants arrested at a meatpacking plant in Iowa.” It’s really upsetting to hear what the interpreter has to say.

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