Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Any way, I was reminded of Pappe's observation about distorted Jewish moral self-image when I heard about the recent immigration raids on the country's largest kosher meat processor, Agriprocessors. The company was founded by Aaron Rubashkin and is run by his sons, Sholom and Heshy Rubashkin, and his daughter and son-in-law Yossie Gourarie. According to the company web site:
... Aaron designed the beef harvesting process in a way that would fully accommodate every rabbinical standard glatt kosher and regular kosher. Even the rabbinate of the state of Israel is accommodated in the process. He trusted that kosher customers would be reassured by his family's commitment to kosher standards and that non-kosher customers would appreciate the better meat produced under kosher requirements.This means, of course, that the company's operations are not only under the supervision of the devout Jews in the Rubashkin family but they are also at least partially under rabbinic supervision. So, what was going on at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville? Here are a couple of excerpts from news reports:
From the Quad-City Times:
DES MOINES -- An immigration reform advocate and a labor union leader on Monday accused Agriprocessors Inc. of exploiting its employees and violating health and safety regulations.From the Chicago Tribune:
Their statements come a week after federal agents detained 389 employees at the Postville meatpacking plant on suspicion of violating immigration laws and other illegal activity.
Mark Lauritsen, international vice president for United Food and Commercial Workers, said Agriprocessors profits from an immigration system that targets working illegal immigrants but goes easy on the employers that hire them.
"Almost 400 hardworking men and women are in detention, and the men and women who abused them are free to walk the streets," Lauritsen said.
United Food and Commercial Workers represents 1.3 million workers from a range of industries including meatpacking and retail food, according to the union's Web site.
Lauritsen said Agriprocessors has a history of violating health and safety regulations and should face legal penalties.
He said the raid revealed that Agriprocessors had hired minors to work in the plant.
"If they can't run an operation legally and by the books, I don't think they should be selling meat to the American public," he said.
With an investigation still under way, a 57-page federal affidavit cites numerous reasons for the raid that left officials processing most of those arrested inside the center 77 miles away in Waterloo. Officials completed processing of 389 detainees on Thursday, including charges against 306 of them for using false Social Security numbers and other forms of illegal documentation.Agriprocessors has a long track record and it isn't good. For more information go to eyeonagriprocessors.org. This is a website created by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. PETA has also done some undercover investigations of AgriProcessors.
The affidavit also alleges that there was a crystal methamphetamine lab inside the plant, though it did not specify who was running it; and that the eyes of one worker were duct-taped before he was clubbed with a meat hook by one of several rabbinical supervisors hired to ensure the chickens, turkeys and lambs shipped in were killed according to rabbinical law. The reason was not mentioned.
And, in an arrangement common at many workplaces in the absence of comprehensive federal Immigration reform, there were numerous alleged instances in which plant supervisors looked the other way when it appeared workers arriving from Guatemala, Mexico and parts of Eastern Europe were carrying false documents.
There's a Yiddish phrase for moments when the false pretense of Jewish high moral standards is torn away and Jews are embarrassingly shown to be just as bad or worse than everyone else: A shande far di goyim. It's an "Oops, you let the cat out of the bag" moment. So, how have Jews responded to the recent Agriprocessors scandal? You might be surprised. Again, some excerpts:
From the The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, IA:
The world's largest kosher certification agency will continue to give its stamp of approval to products made at Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville.From The Jewish Standard of New Jersey:
Rabbis at the Orthodox Union, a New York-based non-profit organization that certifies thousands of meatpacking plants around the world, are still supervising and certifying the kosher products made at the plant, but are watching to see whether the federal government finds the company guilty of any wrongdoing.
Menachem Lubinsky, founder and president of Lubicom Marketing, a leading analyst of the kosher industry and creator of the annual Kosherfest in Manhattan, said that it is unlikely that Monday's raid will have a major effect on the supply of kosher meat. ...The article title for a Jewish Daily Forward highlights what the main concerns are: "Raid on Kosher Slaughterhouse Sparks Fears of Meat Shortage: Immigration Bust Leaves Plant With Skeleton Staff." Only near the end of the article do ethical matters come to the fore and even then it is kind of telling:
Other kosher companies will not be able to capitalize on Agriprocessors' woes by marketing their products as safer or more ethical. The market still feels that Agriprocessors produces a quality product, he said.
"The main issue if I want to buy a kosher product is not 'Am I buying an ethical product,'" he said. "In real terms it's not how consumers behave. They [buy] on price and quality. They don't care if the owner of a company does this or that. As long as it's safe and good, they'll buy."
For Jewish activists who advocate tying ethics standards to the requirements of kashrut, the latest incident at AgriProcessors is more fuel for the fire.One of the bitterest and least mentioned ironies of the whole Agriprocessors scandal is that many of the workers exploited in the plant are refugees from Guatemala. For decades, the country was raped and pillaged by a series of murderous US-backed regimes. One of the worst was the military dictatorship of Efrain Rios Montt, a Christian evangelical minister and pal of ardent Christian Zionist thugs Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. And, not surprisingly, the Jewish state was also up to its neck in Mayan blood, Israelis helped butcher about 200,000 people in Guatemala.
"For too long, we've ignored that production of kosher food has taken place in a world where we're concerned about the ritual aspects of food preparation and not the ethical considerations," said Rabbi Morris Allen, director of the Hechsher Tzedek Commission, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement.
Other kosher consumers simply wish for less controversy mixed in with their meat.
"I think the general sense is that they wish Rubashkin would do what it has to so that it does not wind up in the news all the time," [Rabbi Seth] Mandel said.
As Jane Hunter puts it in Israeli Foreign Policy (1987):
... The history of Israel's relations with Guatemala roughly parallels that of its ties with El Salvador except the Guatemalan military was so unswervingly bloody that Congress never permitted the ... Reagan Administration to undo the military aid cutoff implemented during the Carter years.In 1985, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi wrote:
Weaponry for the Guatemalan military is the very least of what Israel has delivered. Israel not only provided the technology necessary for a reign of terror, it helped in the organization and commission of the horrors perpetrated by the Guatemalan military and police. And even beyond that: to ensure that the profitable relationship would continue, Israel and its agents worked actively to maintain Israeli influence in Guatemala.
Throughout the years of untrammeled slaughter that left at least 45,000 dead, and, by early 1983, one million in internal exile - mostly indigenous Mayan Indians, who comprise a majority of Guatemala's eight million people - and thousands more in exile abroad, Israel stood by the Guatemalan military. Three successive military governments and three brutal and sweeping campaigns against the Mayan population, described by a U.S. diplomat as Guatemala's "genocide against the Indians," had the benefit of Israeli techniques and experience, as well as hardware.
In the midst of endless misery and cruelty, Guatemala stands out as one Central American country where those in power have been fighting those without power, using an unusual degree of ruthlessness and bloodiness. Over the years, numerous reports of the true realities of Guatemala have been harsh in their judgment.In short, good Jews helped create the desperate conditions that drove multitudes of Guatemalans from their home country to be exploited by good Jews producing kosher meat for more good Jews to eat. We've sort of come full circle, haven't we? No doubt those good kosher meat-eating Jews will do just what Ilan Pappe described: "The way out for Jewish society ... was to erase from its collective memory the unpleasant chapters of the past ..." That is, if those unpleasant memories are ever allowed to get in there in the first place.
Those who carry out the deliberate policies of endless killings there proclaim their indebtedness to Israel, not only as the source of their hardware, but as the source of their inspiration. Israel has become the main support of the Guatemalan regime, as attested to by both Romeo Lucas Garcia and Efrain Rios Montt. It was Efrain Rios Montt, the born-again former dictator of Guatemala, who explained his easy takeover in March 1982 by saying that "...many of our soldiers were trained by Israelis." In 1981 the chief of staff of the Guatemalan Army, who praised Israel for its support to the regime, declared … that "the Israeli soldier is the model for our soldiers."
Since 1975, Guatemala has received arms from the United States, Israel, France, Switzerland, Taiwan, Italy, Belgium and Yugoslavia. Israel and Taiwan have been the most active in training Guatemalan officers, who often travel to both countries. Israel became Guatemala's largest arms supplier in the early 1970's, and earned a monopoly position after the United States stopped supplying arms to Guatemala in 1977, when Guatemala turned to Israel for military aid. ...
One significant aspect of the Israeli involvement in Guatemala, mentioned by numerous sources, is the presence of Israeli advisers, who are not just instructors, but are directly involved in counter-insurgency activities. "During the time when U.S. military aid to Guatemala was cut off ... Israel sold a variety of military equipment to the Guatemalan Army and Israeli advisers--some official, others private--helped Guatemalan internal security agents hunt underground rebel groups." Israel had been aiding the Guatemalan military regimes through the supply of arms, computerized information centers and ground radar equipment, in addition to directly engaging in counter-insurgency campaigns against the Indian communities.
Israeli advisers in Guatemala have also been working with the secret police, the notorious G-2. Advisers from Chile and Argentina have joined the Israelis in training the secret police in interrogation techniques. An important part of the Israeli contribution to the efficient Guatemalan counter-insurgency offensive has been the development of a computerized system for the processing of police data. According to some reports, 80 percent of the Guatemalan population are covered by this system, with names and other details stored in the collective memory of the computer. The system is maintained and operated by Israelis. Some sources have claimed that a computerized system, installed by Israelis, is capable of tracking "suspicious activities" by noting excessive electricity consumption overnight in a particular building.
According to guerrillas, the computerized system has been used to provide lists of names for the right-ring death squads. Utilization of computers in counter-insurgency follows the Israeli experience in using the same technology to control the occupied territories. In one specific deal, retired Gen. Avigdor Ben-Gal, who was involved in selling military hardware and software to third world regimes, sold a computerized communication system known as I.C.C.C. to Guatemala.
But before we close, there's one often overlooked side benefit of the slaughter in Guatemala. The country is now safe, comfy, and cheap for Jewish kids (and from the same sect as Agriprocessors founder, Aaron Rubashkin, no less) to go to summer camp in Guatemala. Can't we please join with crypto-kosher Madeleine Albright in a chorus of "We think the price is worth it"?