July 25, 2012
Rubashkin Revenge: Ethical Certificates at Center of Dispute
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But he felt that Yanklowitz’s leadership of Uri L’Tzedek’s boycott of Agriprocessors – which had been owned by the Rubashkin family, prominent members of the Lubavitch community –made Yanklowitz himself unfit to lead an organization dedicated to promoting ethical business practices.
“Based upon what he did, I don’t think he is ethical,” Markowitz said.
Before calling for that boycott, Markowitz said, Uri L’Tzedek’s leaders should first have visited the company’s plant in Postville and consulted with a beis din, a court of religious Jewish law.
“They’re [the beis din] going to make a decision, and then they tell the world,” Markowitz said. “It is unethical, immoral to pass judgment on somebody after only hearing one side.”
On June 25, in a post on a blog Yanklowitz maintains on the New York Jewish Week’s website, he defended Uri L’Tzedek’s decision to call for a boycott of Agriprocessors’ products. Around 2,000 rabbis and Jewish leaders joined Uri L’Tzedek’s call, Yanklowitz wrote. He described the boycott as “a short-lived episode of responsible, halakhically-motivated consumer activism, supported by the broader Jewish community.”
(Yanklowitz also maintains a blog at JewishJournal.com.)
The May 2008 immigration raid on the Agriprocessors plant resulted in the arrests of 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children. According Sue Fishkoff’s 2010 book “Kosher Nation,” “Eighteen of those arrested were between the ages of 13 and 17.”
That Yanklowitz’s blog post also cited the presence of underage workers at Agriprocessors – four years after the raid, two years after a jury in an Iowa state court found Rubashkin not guilty of all 67 counts of child labor violations by – rankles Markowitz.
“He was acquitted,” Markowitz said. “Why are you bringing it up?”
In early July, when Markowitz saw the Tav hanging at Cafe of Paris, a small kosher-certified eatery on Wilshire, he asked one of the owners, Tamy Amsellem, what she knew about Uri L’Tzedek, and then offered her some of his own impressions of the organization.
Markowitz said he made no threats against the Amsellems.
“Who sounds like a bully? I asked people a question; they took down a sign. He—” Markowitz said, referring to Yanklowitz’s assembling a coalition of Jewish leaders to join his call to boycott Rubashkin “—shut down a company, petitioned to shut it down.”
Amsellem and her husband, Yuri, opened their cafe less than two years ago, and they received the Tav about six months ago. Since then, the Amsellems said they had received three or four phone calls from people applauding their decision to accept the Tav and a similar number urging them to drop it.
As of July 20, Cafe of Paris was still listed among the nine Tav-certified businesses in Los Angeles on the program’s Web site, but Yuri Amsellem told The Journal he had taken down the certificate more than two weeks earlier, in part because of the conversation with Markowitz, and in part because of an email he received on July 2, explicitly threatening a boycott of his business.
“Until you remove Tav HaYosher, you will find an increasing number of people boycotting your business,” the email, sent by a person identified as Menachem Cohen, concluded.
Yuri Amsellem shared Cohen’s email with The Journal. According to Yanklowitz, a similar email had been sent to all 100 businesses displaying the Tav. In it, Cohen cited Yanklowitz’s “mercilessly join[ing] all of Rubashkin’s enemies in levying false claims against him” as the primary reason for the threatened boycott of Tav-certified businesses.