With all of the celebrations over President Trump’s finally ending Sholom Rubashkin’s imprisonment after Mr. Rubashkin served eight years of a draconian 27-year sentence, it seems particularly unseemly that a Jewish publication, the Forward, would strain to remind everyone of its seminal and continuing role in his downfall and that of his company, AgriProcessors.
Within days of President Trump’s commutation of the Rubashkin sentence, under the headline “The Forward’s Groundbreaking Coverage of Sholom Rubashkin, Who Trump Just Freed From Prison,” the Forward reprinted an article from its December 11, 2008 issue that had catalogued its focus on Sholom Rubashkin up to that point:
The Forward has been at the leading edge of reporting on a now national story about kosher meat and the conditions in which it is produced. Much of what has appeared in the pages of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on this topic began with a May 2006 expose by the Forward’s Nathaniel Popper on the working conditions at the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, run by AgriProcessors.
Before this, AgriProcessors had been the target of an undercover investigation by the animal rights group PETA. Issues relating to the treatment of animals were explored further in a Forward investigation that looked at the method of slaughter practiced in South America known as shackle-and-hoist.
But it is questions about the treatment of workers that have rocked the industry. First, Conservative rabbis responded to the Forward’s reporting by visiting AgriProcessors and initiating a new program, known as Hekhsher Tzedek, that intends to monitor labor condition at kosher production facilities. After that development, AgriProcessors was the subject of a massive immigration raid that drew national media attention.
Since that raid, the Forward has continued its groundbreaking reporting. An article in the Forward about the immigration and labor issues at AgriProcessors’ Brooklyn warehouse led to editorials in The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times….
In the June 23, 2006 issue of The Jewish Press, we had occasion to comment on Nathaniel Popper’s Forward “expose.” Here is part of what we had to say:
Mr. Popper’s very methodology leaves much to be desired.… [T]here is no indication that Mr. Popper is conversant in Spanish [the language of virtually all of the workers at the AgriProcessors plant]. In addition he relied heavily on the account of one worker – out of 800 – “a woman who agreed to be identified by the pseudonym Juana,” who complained of several things including “a lot of injustice.” What precisely does that mean?
He also refers to “employees” – again, no numbers are given – who complained, among other things, of being berated for not working fast enough. (Why, the horror of it all!) A union organizer who unsuccessfully attempted to unionize the AgriProcessors plant – not exactly a neutral source – is quoted saying: “If had to rate this one amongst all of them, of the different [plants] I’ve been to, it’s got to be the worst.”
Mr. Popper also quoted “Spanish-speaking community leaders,” unidentified and unnumbered, to explain that the grievances had not been made public before because they believed – and here again Mr. Popper offered no evidence to back up the claim – that the workers “have a well-developed fear” of losing their jobs.
And Mr. Popper actually quoted a PETA “investigator” – who insisted on anonymity! – on how the AgriProcessors Iowa plant compares with two other plants: “At the other two, they were compassionate if an individual was hurt. At Agri, they’d be more concerned about losing money than the individual.”
Finally, we have Mr. Popper’s telling description of the treatment of chickens: “The bulk of the work is done by rows of Hispanic men and women who grab the chickens by their feet and prepare them for death.” (Emphasis ours.)
And while Mr. Rubashkin’s trial, conviction, sentence, and ultimate commutation had nothing to do with the claims advanced by the Forward, does anyone seriously doubt that the Forward’s one-sided attack helped poison the jury that convicted him?