Tuesday, January 04, 2005

PETA doesn't play Kosher

PETA is an organization that has taken on the likes of McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken ... but now, it's taken on the Jews. Well, specifically, the laws of shechita and Agriprocessors. Agriprocessors is an Iowa slaughterhouse that is ordained as kosher; the laws of kashrut are not simple, but are quite complex.

One of the main tenets is that the animal live a good life, and die a painfree death.

Well, PETA decided to go guerilla to film how cows were being slaughtered at Agriprocessors, and then, using their usual grass roots efforts, to spread the word that Agriprocessors wasn't really kosher. The story had widespread interest, and was most recently covered by the LA Times.

Now, how does a group of orthodox rabbis, the different groups that ordain food as Kosher, and, well, Agriprocessors take on an organization that is a well-oiled PR and grass roots machine? Well, the rabbis and the kashrut organizations hired Lubicom Marketing Consulting, a firm that has a long history of working with kosher companies and causes.

I interviewed Menachem Lubinsky, the founder of Lubicom, to ask him a few questions: how do you take on PETA, and what is being done.

Has Lubicom and/or Agriprocessors been in contact with other groups that have had to deal with PETA, to work on messaging?

No, we believe that kosher slaughter is unique in that it is part of religious freedom and protected by our constitution and specific exemptions of humane slaughter laws. We are not like furs.

Beyond the traditional media outreach, what are Lubicom and/or Agriprocessors doing to counter the bad press from PETA?

  • Telling the truth, such as releasing the statement of the 12 rabbis and kashrut organizations saying that the schechita in the video was kosher and that animals with their esophagus and throats cut don't bellow and after schechita movements are not signs of consciousness or pain;
  • Publicizing Rabbi Shar Yashuv Cohen's statement of how he was duped and misquoted;
  • Circulating the statements of the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture after her visit to the Agri plant of how impressed she was with the humaneness of the slaughter;
  • And, widely publicizing the statement by Rabbi Dr. I.M. Levinger, international Veterinary Surgeon and expert on kosher slaughter, about the humaneness of the schechita at Agri.

PETA is notorious for grass roots and guerilla efforts. Is Lubicom responding in kind, with its own grass roots efforts?

LUBICOM is merely a PR agency representing the interests of the rabbis and kashrut organizations. Major Orthodox Jewish organizations like the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and the National Council of Young Israel are doing their share to get the truth out to their grassroots.

Have you been surprised that this story has had legs, with another article appearing in the LA Times?

And why not? Pictures of alleged animal abuse, rabbis making statements, PETA - a good combination for sensational journalism.

Has this caused a rift between Orthodox and Conservative groups and the laws of Kashrut?

There never was a united policy on schechita standards, so a rift would not be a good term. Who is interested in glatt kosher standards and who is eating glatt kosher meat anyway?

Has Lubicom and/or Agriprocessors been reaching out to Gentile groups that view Kosher as a higher quality meat?

Hopefully, they realize who PETA is and have seen some of the stories with the truth.

While others share the view that PETA is anti-Semitic, has that hurt the campaign for pushing out the message that Agriprocessors is Kosher? Could others see that as knee-jerk reaction to PETA?

There was NEVER any question about the kashrut at Agri, as all of the rabbis have testified, or for that matter that procedures at the plant are humane as people like the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture have observed.

As far as anti-Semitism is concerned, PETA is already on record on referring to animal slaughter as a Holocaust. How else can you describe people who are more concerned with the use of a donkey in a suicide bombing in Israel than the killing of Jews.

Lastly, the venom they have spewed and the degree of how they continue to go after a major supplier of glatt kosher meat in this country can only be construed as anti-Semitism, especially when stunned animals and practices at non-kosher plants certainly are nowhere as humane as the practices at Agri.

Now, full disclosure. My favorite place in the world is here. My minor was Judaic Studies, and I took 7 years of Hebrew. If needed, I could go vegan, but I would really have to love that girl (thankfully, I love Middle Eastern and Greek food, so I'd be safe).

This is a great case study, though. Have us Jews learned nothing from the grassroots campaign for The Passion of the Christ? The best way to combat a grass roots campaign is ... with a concentrated grass roots campaign.

Lubicom is doing all the right things - the typical media campaign, getting out the message to
the constituents, working with the press on messaging points. And, Lubicom has brought up issues that point to possible anti-Semitism in PETA: a group that complained to Yasser Arafat that a donkey died in a terrorist attack - hey, they're just Jews, they're less than animals is nice WWII propaganda - and used WWII again to denigrate the Holocaust in comparison to dinner.

Here's what would have been a good grass roots campaign for Agriprocessors and the kashrut organizations:
  1. A push to churches portraying this as a cause for religious freedom
  2. A push to churches on the humane nature of kosher meat
  3. A push to orthodox, conservative, reform and humanistic synagogues, informing them that Agriprocessors is certified kosher
  4. A Website, promoting Agriprocessors in a child-friendly way
  5. A Website, promoting shechita and the underlying principals, including the respect for animals
  6. Stickers, because everyone loves stickers
These are just thoughts off the top of my head, but when confronted with grass roots and guerilla marketing - especially with a group like PETA - it's best to fight fire with fire.

And, it's a good PR lesson for any crisis. There's always a way to use the core community to support your cause.

Post a Comment