Two major Jewish media stories on the Agriprocessors immigration raid deserve special mention – not for a job well done.
The first story – by far the least objectionable of the two – is the Forward's major piece on the raid.
Here's the section of the Forward piece dealing with the affidavits, what the government alleges took place at Agriprocessors:
Among the allegations in an affidavit released by ICE was that some AgriProcessors workers bought and sold weapons at work.
The affidavit also included allegations from sources at the plant that employees were running a methamphetamine lab on AgriProcessors premises, that a supervisor struck an employee with a meat hook and that undocumented workers were receiving significantly less than minimum wage.
That's it. Two sentences.
No mention of alleged company involvement in identity theft and related crimes, like the government source that was given a fake name and social security number by Agriprocessors and who was instructed to cash her check in the plant, at a special office set up to do so. That office apparently deducted an "immigration fee" from those checks.
No mention of $5 an hour wages, the extortion of illegal workers with regard to housing and transportation.
No mention of child labor employed at the plant or the ongoing Iowa OSHA and Department of Labor investigation into Agriprocessors.
No mention of what legal experts, including one close to Rubashkin, say are broadly drawn affidavits that appear to signal the beginning of US Government prosecution of Agriprocessors and the Rubashkin family.
And no mention of the Rubashkin family's very public affiliations with Chabad and with the Republican Party.
Reading the Forward piece, one would think the raid was only about illegal workers – and a possible shortage of kosher meat. And this is very odd when you realize the Forward broke the original allegations of worker abuse two years ago and has had generally excellent, groundbreaking coverage on the various issues surrounding Agriprocessors. Perhaps this was just an off week.
The second and worse piece is a JTA feature written by Sue Fishkoff.
Fishkoff wrote the book, "The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch," a valentine to Chabad that ignored reams of evidence of problems within the movement and in the movement's interactions with other sections of Orthodoxy.
Fishkoff's piece also focuses on a possible kosher meat shortage, and it contains sins of omission and commission both:
- Refers to Agriprocessors owners as "Chasidic" but never mentions Chabad or Lubavitch, as if Agriprocessors were run by a bunch of Hungarian hasidim.
- Refers to the OU as Agriprocessors " the main kosher certifier of the Chasidic-owned Agriprocessors," when Agriprocessors main certification is Supreme Kosher under Rabbi Weissmandel.
- Quotes Menachem Lubinsky without ever mentioning he has often been on Rubashkin's payroll.
- Quotes Lubinsky as saying most of Agri's meat comes from South America and "smaller" US plants when Lubinsky told the Forward the opposite a couple of days before. Fishkoff does not call him on this.
- Does not mention any of the abuses listed above, and makes the entire raid appear to be only about illegal workers.
- Says Agriprocessors markets its products as "Aaron's Best and Rubashkin's," but does not mention Supreme Kosher, Shor Habor, David's, Nathan's and other brands controlled or filled by Agriprocessors.
- Does not mention Agriprocessors non-Kosher output marketed under the Iowa's Best label, or what stores, restaurants and national chains sell this meat.
To its credit, the JTA does have other stories that explore many of the issues Fishkoff ignores. Still, to write a piece that does not provide any frame of reference, that makes it appear as if the only wrongdoers are the illegal workers and to remove the Chabad connection is shameful.
Sholom M. Rubashkin is a Chabad-ordained rabbi who was a shaliach, an official Chabad representative sent by the Rebbe himself to do outreach. He left that position at his father's insistence (and with the Rebbe's blessing) to open and run Agriprocessors.
Sholom M. Rubashkin, his father and brothers are all major Chabad donors. His brother Moshe is the elected president of the Crown Heights Community Council (and a two-time federal felon).
Fishkoff managed to quote Conservative and Modern Orthodox rabbis in this piece. But somehow she did not quote any Chabad rabbis. Is it not newsworthy to see how Chabad reacts to this scandal involving prominent members of the Chabad community?
Of course it is newsworthy.
Why did two of the most important Jewish news outlets in North America so skew their coverage of the raid and its aftermath?
[Hat Tip: Stephen M.]