The issue, it seems, is…
…lack of full disclosure.
Ben Harris of the JTA reports:
…In the eyes of the company’s critics, and even some Orthodox rabbis, the fact that Agriprocessors paid for the trip rendered the rabbis’ conclusions suspect. Neither of the national council’s two news releases regarding the trip disclosed that Agriprocessors had footed the bill for the rabbis.
“If they’re going and being paid by Rubashkin, then that should be forthrightly disclosed,” said Maury Kelman, a lawyer and Orthodox rabbi who has led congregations in Israel and New York.
Kelman said Jewish law, or halachah, insists that rabbis involved in such matters do everything to avoid even the perception that their judgment could be compromised.
“It’s very important if rabbis are going that things look totally above board, and that it’s 100 percent clear that the desire is to do the right thing and not just the expedient thing,” he said. “If somebody’s being paid, you’re beholden to them. Halachah is very clear about this.”
Lerner rejected the suggestion that the rabbis’ impartiality might be compromised.
“Give me a break,” Lerner said. “To impugn the integrity of 25 people is out of line.”
The rabbis also were criticized for not meeting directly with former workers, who have lodged the harshest complaints against the company. They did, however, meet with one of their advocates, Paul Rael, the director of Hispanic Ministries at St. Bridget’s.
Lerner said his group was expecting to speak with the workers and was surprised to see that none were present for the meeting.
The rabbinic delegation, which dwindled to four for the late-afternoon meeting with Rael, sought to establish itself as a conduit between the church and Agriprocessors to discuss outstanding problems.
Rael told JTA he was “absolutely” ready to open a dialogue with the company. Chaim Abrahams, an Agriprocessors representative, said the company was “considering” the suggestion “in a positive light.”
Regarding past allegations, Lerner said he had asked that a file of worker complaints be prepared and that he would take up the issue with Agriprocessors. But Lerner stressed that the main issue now should be how to move forward.
Rael said he won’t be ready for that until various problems, like employee back pay, are worked out.
“The minute that I got through giving my little dialogue, they said, ‘That’s the past,’” Rael recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, but the past is what created the problem.’ If their intent is to move forward, I can’t move forward until this issue is totally, totally done.”