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January 22, 2017 / 24 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Sholom Rubashkin’

The Supreme Court and Sholom Rubashkin

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

We know we speak for many in our community when we express sadness at the news that the United States Supreme Court on Monday decided not to review the 27-year sentence meted out to former Agriprocessors chief executive Sholom Rubashkin.

At bottom we believe that nothing in the public record concerning Mr. Rubashkin’s crimes can justify a man in his early fifties being sent away to federal prison for more than a quarter of a century.

While we certainly believe that those convicted of crimes should pay a penalty, we believe that from the run up to his trial through this apparently final phase of the judicial process, his case fairly reeked of a sense of injustice: his prosecution was accompanied by an extraordinary level of negative publicity rarely seen in modern judicial proceedings; the list of charges lodged against him, though facially legitimate, was uncommonly inflated in number and degree and, in criminal law parlance, “piled on”; the presiding judge, by any measure, at least raised serious questions of impropriety with her highly unusual ongoing contact with the prosecution team; and the sentence of 27 years stood out among those imposed on others convicted of similar crimes.

In permitting such obvious issues to go unaddressed, the appellate courts failed not only Mr. Rubashkin but also others who may at one time or another find themselves enmeshed in the vagaries of our federal judicial system that do not always account for a possibly compromised trial judge and where formal review procedures are sometimes allowed to trump basic humanity.

We share the comments his lawyer, Nathan Lewin, one of the foremost criminal defense and appellate attorneys of our time, gave to The Jewish Press:

The Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the Rubashkin case – which is the greatest injustice that I have seen in more than 50 years of law practice – was very distressing. But the legal battle is not over. There are, in American legal history, a few famous cases “that will not die.” The Rubashkin case is in that league. The Torah teaches that tzedek does not come easily; it must be pursued. Even at this juncture, there are legal avenues for overturning a fundamentally unfair trial.

Editorial Board

‘I Want Everybody To Know I’m Jewish’ : An Interview with Alan Dershowitz

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz is best known for his legal prowess, but he is also the author of two dozen nonfiction works and three novels, the latest of which is The Trials of Zion. Set in Israel, the book’s plot tells the story of three lawyers who defend an alleged Arab terrorist while simultaneously trying to discover who set off a bomb that killed the American president and Israeli and Palestinian leaders at a peace-signing ceremony in Jerusalem.

Dershowitz recently spoke to The Jewish Press about his new book, the Sholom Rubashkin trial, and President Obama’s policy toward Israel.

The Jewish Press: Why did you write this book?

Dershowitz: I think that Israel needs to be portrayed in the 21st century in fiction the way it was portrayed years ago by Leon Uris in Exodus. Fiction really matters; people read novels and form opinions based on them. I think Israel’s image in the world has been suffering lately, and I wanted to write a reality-based novel indicating how difficult it is to deal with terrorism and to make peace in the face of terrorism.

But this book is not entirely pro-Israel.

I had to make it nuanced. I didn’t want it to be something that could be dismissed as pro-Israel propaganda. I wanted it to subtly convey the history of Israel, how difficult it’s been to make peace, and the various elements that seem to be opposed to peace. Remember, when Leon Uris was writing, everybody in the world loved Israel. It was very easy to write a completely pro-Israel book. Today that wouldn’t work. It has to be more nuanced.

You’ve supported the creation of a Palestinian state since the 1970s. Yet, in some circles today you’re considered a right-winger because of your outspoken support for Israel.

It’s so interesting that Noam Chomsky is considered centrist and I’m considered a right-winger even though I have been critical of the settlements since 1973, I’ve favored the two-state solution since 1970 – even before Israel did – and I’m very active in the peace process. I haven’t changed. It shows you how the world has changed.

Intermarriage is generally thought of as one of the worst sins a Jew can commit. And yet, in your novel, you portray positively a budding romance between a young Arab man and a young Jewish woman. Why?

I don’t think I portray it in a positive light. I think I portray it realistically. I portray it the way I see it among my students. I’m trying to be descriptive, not prescriptive. I’m not suggesting it’s a good thing. I don’t support it.

But I see it all around me. The other night I spoke at a Chabad Shabbat dinner at Harvard, and a lot of the students came with non-Jewish girlfriends and spouses. Many of them will eventually convert to Judaism but we’re going through a very challenging period now with intermarriage. I can’t ignore that in my writing.

In the book, you seem to imply that followers of religious leaders such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe are somehow irrational or not using their critical faculties. Is that what you believe?

No, I certainly don’t believe that. I’m the faculty adviser at Chabad at Harvard and I’m a tremendous admirer of Chabad. They do phenomenal work. I don’t believe that at all. You can’t put in my mouth everything that every character spouts.

The point I made about Lubavitch is that a lot of these actors in Hollywood immediately jump on the Lubavitch bandwagon without understanding a thing about Judaism or Lubavitch. I was thinking of a particular person I know in Hollywood, a fairly well known actor, who has just given up his critical faculties…. Tomorrow he’ll be abandoning that and going to some ashram in India. It’s not real for some people. That’s my point.

You have been critical of the 27-year sentence Sholom Rubashkin recently received. Do you see him as a victim of anti-Semitism or as someone who simply was unlucky to have a stern judge presiding over his trial?

I don’t know enough about the case to know whether he’s completely innocent, but I can tell you this: The sentence was utterly disproportionate. You cannot explain that sentence based on the facts of the case. I don’t care how harsh a judge she is. She’s never sentenced anybody like this for a comparable crime.

So I don’t know whether it was anti-Semitism or anti-Easternism or anti-New Yorkism or anti-outsiderism, but it was anti-something. And it can’t be explained on principles of justice. The sentence was way, way out of proportion to anything that was proved in the case.

You have publicly stated that the Jewish community’s hostility toward President Obama is undeserved and unwise.

I do think that. Look, I’m critical of a lot of the policies of the Obama administration, particularly as it relates to foreign policy and most particularly as it relates to Iran. But I think it’s a terrible mistake to regard him as an unredeemable enemy. People point to those who were close to him like the Reverend Wright. People forget that one of the persons who’s closest to him in the world is my dear friend Charles Ogletree, who is an African-American professor at the law school and a fervent Zionist who goes to Israel as often as he can, who has taught in Israel, loves Israel, and is a deep supporter of Israel.

Many of my other African-American friends who are very close to Obama are also very strong supporters of Israel – Henry Louis Gates, Jr., for example. So it’s not a one-sided picture; it’s much more complex. And the most important point is he’s the president of the United States. He’s going to be the president for two more years and maybe six more years, and it would be a terrible mistake to turn him into an enemy. We have to try our best to make him a friend.

Many Jews who become successful try to downplay or hide their Jewishness. You don’t. The fact that you named one of your books Chutzpah amply demonstrates this point. What makes you different?

I’m very proud to be a Jew. I want everybody to know I’m Jewish, and I want to be assertively Jewish. When I came to Harvard, people told me I was too Jewish for Harvard and that I’d never get tenure. I said, “That’s fine. If they don’t want to give a Jewish Jew tenure, that wouldn’t be a good place for me to be.”

I’m not going to hide my Jewishness in any way, and am always contemptuous of people who change their names and change their noses. I don’t think that’s happening as much today, but it certainly happened in my day.

I’m proudly and assertively Jewish and I’ll always be that way. For me it’s very important. I tell Jewish jokes in my classes, I quote Rambam as often as I quote Blackstone, I wrote a book about the book of Bereishit. I’m very proud of my Jewish heritage, education and knowledge. I never hide it at all.

That’s what happens when you grow up in Boro Park. We lived on 48th Street between 15th and 16th Avenues, and I grew up with the Klass family [founders of The Jewish Press]. Mrs. [Irene] Klass was a friend of my mother’s.

Elliot Resnick

One Standard Of Justice?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

A front-page story in The New York Timesof July 10 reported that federal immigration authorities in the Obama administration have adopted a “new strategy” to replace the military-style raids that were conducted in the Bush years to find and arrest illegal aliens.

One such raid, carried out in May 2008, destroyed Agriprocessors, the country’s largest kosher meat-packing plant, and resulted in criminal charges that culminated in a 27-year sentence for Sholom Rubashkin, the principal manager of the Postville, Iowa, plant. The Rubashkin raid netted 389 Hispanics who had gotten their jobs with false documentation. They were arrested, quickly prosecuted, and then deported.

According to the Times, the “quieter enforcement strategy” is to have federal agents “scour companies’ records for illegal immigrant workers” and then tell the employers to fire those who are not properly documented. Three days before the 2008 Agriprocessors raid, a lawyer hired by Rubashkin asked in writing that the local prosecutors and immigration authorities do precisely what is now the “new strategy.” The request was immediately rejected, and the rejection was even acknowledged by a local immigration official in testimony during Rubashkin’s recent federal trial.

Apart from not being raided, have the employers of illegal aliens been treated by federal law-enforcement authorities differently from how Rubashkin was treated? The Times reports that a family-owned fruit-grower company in the State of Washington named Gebbers Farms was found in December 2009 to be employing more than 500 illegal Mexican aliens. Gebbers fired these employees just before Christmas.

Advertisement The federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Sholom Rubashkin for allegedly knowingly harboring aliens. In the seven months since the Gebbers “audit,” no criminal charges have been filed against any member of the Gebbers family.

The federal prosecutors promptly added to the immigration charges they filed against Rubashkin the claim that he committed bank fraud because the loan agreement he signed with the bank that advanced a line of credit to Agriprocessors represented that he was “in compliance with the law.”

The prosecutors alleged that since he knew that illegal aliens were employed, this representation amounted to bank fraud. (As a result, the prosecutors were permitted to introduce evidence of immigration violations in a trial that was supposed to be limited to bank fraud charges.)

If the United States Attorney for Washington treats the Gebbers the same way Rubashkin was treated, one or more members of the Gebbers family should be arrested and charged not only with immigration violations but, if the Gebbers had any bank loan, with bank fraud as well. The representation that the borrowing company is complying with the law is standard “boilerplate” language in bank-loan documents. The Gebbers’ loan papers should be scrutinized to see if they contain a similar representation.

And, of course, if the Gebbers are treated on a par with Rubashkin, one or more members of the family should be released before trial on any criminal charges that may be filed only if they post a one-million-dollar bond and have their freedom to travel limited by an electronic ankle bracelet. If they plead guilty or a jury returns a guilty verdict, they should be immediately imprisoned, as Rubashkin was.

Any potential federal indictments against the Gebbers should, like Rubashkin’s, allege that a separate federal crime was committed with each illegal alien and with each draw on a line of credit. If the Gebbers are treated as Rubashkin was treated, their indictment will easily exceed the 163 counts in Rubashkin’s indictment.

If a member of the Gebbers family is found guilty of the federal charges, will the federal prosecutor for Washington demand that he or she receive a 25-year prison sentence? Will the sentencing judge add several years to the prosecutor’s recommendation, as Judge Linda Reade of the federal court in Iowa did in Rubashkin’s case?

Other recent illegal-immigration cases, some described in the Timesarticle, are worth comparing with Rubashkin’s. Several restaurant owners who paid their employees in cash and requested little or no documentation of legal status have recently pleaded guilty. George Anagnostou, the owner of two restaurants in Maryland, made a considerable profit from his restaurants, enabling him to purchase two cars, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and two homes. His illegal-alien employees were paid in cash and many worked up to 80 hours a week.

Nathan Lewin

Rubashkin’s Reputation

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Almost a quarter of a century ago Raymond Donovan, secretary of labor in the Reagan administration, was acquitted by a jury of larceny and fraud charges. His reaction, as quoted in the next day’s news stories, was, “Where do I go now to get my reputation back?”

Sholom Rubashkin can ask the same question. The attorney general of Iowa was not content to make a reasonable prosecutorial presentation of his claim that Rubashkin knowingly hired employees under the age of 18. He was obviously envious of the federal prosecutors who had monopolized national headlines with their highly publicized raid on Agriprocessors and with the colorful photograph of Rubashkin taken in handcuffs by federal marshals after his unnecessary arrest.

Rubashkin’s lawyers had informed the prosecutors that he would surrender voluntarily if notified that charges against him were going to be filed – the customary procedure utilized in white-collar criminal investigations. Instead, successfully seeking to grab his own headlines, Attorney General Tom Miller chose to charge Rubashkin with 9,311 counts of violations of Iowa’s labor laws.

Was there ever any serious intention on the attorney general’s part to proceed to trial on even one percent of his allegations? Most unlikely. In fact, he dropped 9,228 counts before trial and took his case to trial on 83 counts. Even of that miniscule remnant, 16 were dropped when all the evidence was in.

But the enormous volume of initial charges cemented into the public’s mind what had been asserted previously (1) by a union that had unsuccessfully tried to represent the workers at the Iowa kosher-slaughtering plant, (2) by a Jewish weekly, and (3) by otherwise respected Conservative rabbis. All of them succeeded in drawing in the public’s mind a perverted portrait of Sholom Rubashkin, picturing him as someone who exploited his employees and willingly hired adolescents to wield knives and lug heavy carcasses of kosher slaughtered animals. Advertisement

Presidential candidate Obama – a law professor educated in the country’s top law school – parroted that line. When he swung through Iowa on a campaign trip in August 2008 and was asked what he thought of the local meatpacking plant, he replied, “When you read about a meatpacking plant hiring 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds – that is some of the most dangerous, difficult work there is . They have kids in there wielding buzz saws and cleavers? It’s ridiculous. And the only reason they’re hiring these folks is because they want to avoid paying people decent wages and providing them decent benefits.”

And even some Orthodox Jewish groups, too self-conscious to challenge the union’s and the media’s portrayal, joined the chorus that condemned Rubashkin and demanded his ouster from the meatpacking business well before any trial.

Even though the Iowa jury had been saturated with anti-Rubashkin publicity during his federal trial, it saw through the smear when Attorney General Miller was forced to present his evidence and subject it to cross-examination. The state prosecutor was permitted to bring high-school students who had worked in the plant and been deported to Guatemala under special visas to testify at the trial. But all admitted that they had lied about their age when they applied for jobs, and they failed to remember that they had told federal agents when they were arrested that they never saw Sholom Rubashkin and did not know whether he knew any under-age employee was working there.

The plant’s employment ads all made it crystal-clear that only those over 18 were eligible to apply. And Rubashkin’s defense demonstrated convincingly that age could not be determined by appearance alone.

The defense proved Rubashkin took great pains to be sure that no minors were knowingly employed. When a Jewish woman pleaded with him to hire her under-18 son because he needed a salary, Rubashkin refused because it would violate the law. That evidence was so compelling that the prosecutor was reduced to arguing to the jury that Rubashkin was a racist who did not want to hire any under-age applicant “from the yeshiva” but was content to have the public school (populated by Guatemalans) become “a feeder to that plant.”

The acquittal by the Iowa jury should lead the public and the courts to re-examine the story the media and the prosecutors have been peddling. Sholom Rubashkin has been the victim of a vicious public smear campaign, and he is entitled to recover his reputation. Restore to him the initials of his name – Sholom Mordechai – his “shem” which, according to rabbinic lore, is more dear than fine oil. And may the acquittal have an impact – a “roshem” (all three initial letters of his name) – on future developments in the Rubashkin case.

Nathan Lewin

Hatchet Job On Kosher Meat Company

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

I was in New York on Thursday, May 25, when a banner front-page headline in that week’s Forward caught my eye from the newspaper box on the Manhattan street-corner. It shrieked: “IN IOWA MEAT PLANT, KOSHER ‘JUNGLE’ BREEDS FEAR, INJURY, SHORT PAY.”

(I have represented AgriProcessors, the kosher meat company owned by the Rubashkin family, in its battle with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA surreptitiously took videos of shechita at the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa, and posted them on its website in a campaign to discredit AgriProcessors and, in my opinion, to rouse public sentiment against kosher slaughter.)

I injected four quarters into the vending machine. The article was written by Nathaniel Popper, a Forward reporter who had no trouble finding me by telephone on March 13, when he was writing a piece headlined “USDA Slaps Kosher Slaughterhouse” that appeared in the March 17 issue of the Forward.  A year-old Department of Agriculture report that largely exonerated AgriProcessors and recounted that the AgriProcessors shechita procedure was fully known to, and approved by, the Agriculture Department inspectors had recently been made public because PETA had made a legal demand for its publication.

I had told Popper in March that notwithstanding the “spin” that PETA was putting on the few negative aspects of the report, the Agriculture Department report was overwhelmingly exculpatory. Popper did not like my response. He gave me two sentences in his story. He took advantage of the opportunity to give much larger play to his assertion that the Orthodox Union “has questions about the rotating pen used at the [AgriProcessors] plant,” although shechita munachat is the only shechita that the Israeli rabbinate accepts and allows for kosher meat imported into Israel.

The Orthodox Union’s supervising rabbi was invoked, as was the president of the Rabbinical Assembly – the Conservative national rabbinical organization – who, according to Popper, maintained that the rotating pen “violates the prohibition against tza’ar ba’alei hayyim.

A colleague of Popper’s was also able to find me easily when the Forward decided in early April that it was newsworthy to write a story about PETA’s release of a video that again attacked shechita generally and AgriProcessors in particular. The film was narrated by novelist Jonathan Foer and featured a Conservative rabbi and Rabbi Irving Greenberg of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation.

The Forward reporter spent at least ten minutes on the phone trying to get me to agree that if modern science discovered a more humane method of dispatching animals than kosher slaughter, the Orthodox rabbinate would have to reexamine shechita. I didn’t give him even the inch for which he cajoled and pleaded. My reward was that our interview was not mentioned in his story. The interviewees he quoted were only those who fit his agenda.

So I probably should not have been as shocked as I was to read the Forward’s front-page attack and to note that its allegations had never been presented to me or, to my knowledge, to any AgriProcessors representative for response. But the claims made by Popper’s article – both explicitly and by implication – were extraordinarily serious.

Popper claimed that the approximately 800 employees of AgriProcessors in Postville – mainly Hispanic immigrants – were being exploited by being forced into sub-human living quarters, cheated in their paychecks, subjected to corrupt supervisors, denied medical care and safety training, and essentially imprisoned in Postville with no chance to leave or to seek better employment. No decent person – much less a Jew concerned about allegations of unethical behavior by religious Jews that might give rise to a chilul Hashem – could fail to be troubled by what Popper was reporting.

I contacted Sholom Rubashkin, manager of the Postville plant, who was quoted in the article. He insisted that the story was fundamentally false. I wondered whether we could verify AgriProcessors’ denial of the story’s allegations, thinking to myself that the story could only be effectively refuted by the employees themselves.

On Monday (which was the Memorial Day holiday), Rubashkin told me that he had received siyata di’shmaya. Acting entirely on his own, Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, a rav hamachshir in St. Paul, Minnesota, who gives hashgachas to AgriProcessor products as well as to others, had decided independently on Sunday to travel to Postville to see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears whether the condition of AgriProcessors employees in Postville was accurately described in Popper’s article.

Rabbi Zeilingold took with him Dr. Carlos Carbonera, a distinguished member of his congregation who is fluent in Spanish. Dr. Carbonera’s field is mathematics, in which he was awarded a Ph.D. by Berkeley. He went along to be able to communicate easily with Hispanic employees, but Rabbi Zeilingold asked him to be an independent investigator and not simply to serve as the rabbi’s assistant.

I spoke on Memorial Day with Rabbi Zeilingold. He told me that he was in the process of writing a detailed report of his visit to Postville, as was Dr. Carbonera. In the most vehement terms, he described the Popper article as “koolo sheker ve-chazav” – a total lie. His full report, which he sent to me by e-mail late on Monday night along with Dr. Carbonera’s, eviscerated the Forwardaccount. Rabbi Zeilingold’s report has been posted on various websites and Dr. Carbonera’s account appears on page 6 of this issue of The Jewish Press.

The principal questions Popper raised and Rabbi Zeilingold and Dr. Carbonera discussed are the following:

Do the employees live in dingy overcrowded quarters? Popper began his article by referring to the “mobile homes and cramped apartments” in which AgriProcessors’ Hispanic employees allegedly live. Later in his piece Popper described a “bare apartment” which five single Guatemalans call home. It has only “two beat-up couches with cushions that sink to the floor,” stained carpets, and a television “that sits on the box in which it came.”

Is Popper’s description accurate? If so, it is surely not typical – although that is plainly his implication. Rabbi Zeilingold saw very attractive separate homes that Hispanic workers had purchased, as well as spacious modern apartments in which many lived. The implication that AgriProcessors owns a trailer park where it deposits its Hispanic workers is demonstrably false. Rabbi Zeilingold heard from the employees he interviewed that some employees choose to live in a trailer park owned by a Postville councilman who has no association with AgriProcessors or the Rubashkin family. Some choose on their own to save money on rent to be able to send funds to Guatemala or Mexico or to build up a nest egg to buy or build their own homes.

Are the employees locked into Postville? Popper identifies one miserably unhappy woman who came to Iowa “a year ago from Guatemala.” She has stayed in Postville, says Popper, only because “It’s the only factory here. We have no choice.” No one can leave, Popper says, because there is “no publc transportation into or out of town, and few immigrant workers can secure driver’s licenses to escape the isolated community.” (Note the calculated choice of the word “escape,” designed to portray Postville as a prison.)

Rabbi Zeilingold spoke with 20 AgriProcessors employees, married and single men, wed and single mothers. All said that they were satisfied with their working conditions, that they could leave for other jobs, and that they chose not to do so. In fact, workers had come to Postville from other states, many on the recommendation of family members or friends who were AgriProcessors employees. Hispanic employees told Dr. Carbonera that they are staying at AgriProcessors because they are paid pay better at AgriProcessors and have better working arrangements than they would anywhere else in the country. And employees who wanted to leave Postville for other jobs had freely done so.

Do the employees get medical care and safety training? Popper’s Forward article implies that AgriProcessors’ workforce has absolutely no medical care. The woman who is his principal source of information has a cutting hand that is “swollen and deformed” and no doctor to treat it.

Rabbi Zeilingold heard otherwise from employees who told him that Postville has a “free clinic where they are treated well.” Had Popper asked Sholom Rubashkin, he would have learned that, as part of its benefits package, AgriProcessors pays at least 70 percent of the cost of medical insurance of those employees who choose to be insured. The rabbi interviewed one Hispanic employee who had been injured in a plant accident “and was taken to a Spanish-speaking doctor.”

That employee also told the rabbi that he had received safety training (which Popper reports as inadequate or nonexistent).

Other employees told Dr. Carbonera that, contrary to the Forward’s allegations, “the company trains them regularly and has established procedures for the safety of employees.”

Are the employees’ families happy? Rabbi Zeilingold sought out unbiased witnesses and deliberately did not rely on AgriProcessors officials. He spoke with Ron Wahls, a guidance counselor and teacher at the local elementary school. Wahls described the “care and consideration that the school has for . . . newly arrived immigrant children,” and the rabbi heard from the Hispanic employees themselves how happy their wives and children were in Postville.

One Guatemalan employee who has been living in Postville for one year with his wife and three sons (and rents the lower level of a two-family house) spoke glowingly of AgriProcessors and the Rubashkins. He came to Postville from Texas, where he had worked for a plumber. He told Rabbi Zeilingold in broken English, “This is the best place.”

Do the employees get fair wages and are they “shortchanged?” The Hispanic employees to whom Rabbi Zeilingold spoke felt that the AgriProcessors pay scale is fair and in line with the pay at other slaughterhouses. One employee had worked at a California slaughterhouse for five years and then in an Iowa slaughterhouse. He felt that AgriProcessors “has been very fair to him.” He purchased his own home and brought his family from Mexico to Postville. Rabbi Zeilingold and Dr. Carbanero asked explicitly whether any of the employees had been “shortchanged” on their paychecks, as the Forwardhad alleged. The employees responded that they always received the correct amount and were unaware that anyone had ever been “shortchanged.”

Was the union unfairly excluded? The Forward quotes an unsuccessful union organizer twice in the Popper article – once to describe AgriProcessors as “the worst” slaughterhouse and then to give his opinion that the workers “were so scared and beat down by the company” that they rejected the union. Popper does not bother to provide details. Notwithstanding a four-month union organizing effort, too few workers were interested in a union to meet the minimum required for an election. This is as resounding a loss of the popular vote as one can imagine. The candidate who didn’t even get enough signatures on a nominating petition is attacking the fairness of the election for which he failed to qualify.

Federal law gives AgriProcessors’ employees a free choice as to whether they want a union. These employees decided overwhelmingly that they wanted none.

Does management hire corrupt supervisors? None of the employees Rabbi Zeilingold interviewed had heard or even conceived of the payment of “bribes” to supervisors. The rabbi was told that two supervisors at the plant had been too dictatorial and abusive. Management fired them after hearing the workers’ complaints. The employees told Rabbi Zeilingold that “there has not been a problem” since the discharged supervisors left.

Why is it, one wonders, that the Forward reporter was unable to find anyone who would say anything more favorable about the Postville plant than the “handful of employees” who, according to Popper, made the seemingly grudging acknowledgment that “with a good supervisor, work at the plant was tolerable?”

(Did Popper really hear the word “tolerable” or was it his personal substitution for “good” or “satisfactory”? Are the content employees truly only a “handful” while the critics’ numbers are so large that they are generically described throughout his article as “the workers”?)

Could it possibly be that Popper pre-selected his interviewees to fit the thesis that he was intent on proving and that he edited their comments? Or is his defense that the Hispanic employees who live in private homes and modern apartments, who have been deservedly promoted to better paying jobs at AgriProcessors, who are healthy and satisfied with the medical care they receive, and who have encouraged relatives and friends to come join the AgriProcessors work-force went into hiding when Popper came to Postville?

If conditions are as terrible as Popper describes, how could Rabbi Zeilingold have found, in his words, “that here was a food plant in small-town America that had workers who were satisfied and felt their lives had meaning and fulfillment?”

If Popper’s account had any validity, how could the rabbi have met Hispanic workers who “recognized the Rubashkin family and the AgriProcessors establishment as their benefactors?” And how could a self-respecting rabbi have said of Popper’s Postville that it “is a good place to work in a beautiful little town, one offering opportunity, happiness, and fulfillment?”

And how could Dr. Carbonera, in his report of his visit, have said of the same plant that Popper describes as a “Kosher ‘Jungle”: “That little Iowa town of Postville is providing a haven to immigrants from Latin America and Hispanics in general”?

Indeed, Dr. Carbonera lauded “The work opportunities, the health care and educational systems, the living conditions in Postville,” which he called “magnets for immigrants.”

His conclusion was that “AgriProcessors, faithful to Torah ethics, provides an environment where its employees are treated with justice.”

Because of Popper’s article, the Forward’s editorial writers dedicated their full editorial column in the same issue to challenging AgriProcessors’ ethics and questioning the kashrut of its meat. An editorial on journalistic ethics would have been more appropriate.

Nathan Lewin is a prominent Washington attorney who has appeared before the Supreme Court in many Orthodox causes.

Nathan Lewin

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