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.

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12 comments

  1. Anonymous7:29 AM

    I read your analysis of communication strategy to counter PETA.
    Frankly, I just looked at the video on the PETA website and you will have a hard time explaining to me that the animal doesn't suffer. Unless what we see is not what is happening in the Kosher slaughterhouse.
    You say PETA is anti-Semitic in alleging that it prefers donkeys not to be blown up in terrorist attacks on Jews in Israël. I think you are strechtching PETA's letter way to far: they seems to be concerned by animal welfare, just like you are concerned by Jewish welfare. The two don't have to mix!
    Finally, I would like to say that I did not find The Passion of The Christ anti-Semitic. If it had been so, then you simply would need to rewrite The New Testament!
    Marc-Antoine Hamet, Paris, France
    marcantoine.hamet@gmail.com

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  2. Anonymous11:07 PM

    Oh, it's always nice to see a Frenchman defend anti-Semitism. France has so much experience in the area, they are experts. No one can hand over Jews to Nazis faster than the French.

    I have not seen the video, but you seem to miss the point. These are ANIMALS and to complain to Arafat (the terrorist loved by the French) that a donkey died, with no mention of the Israelis, is to devalue the life of HUMANS in Israel. Unless, as a good Frenchman, you view Jews as dogs.

    And, it's always nice to have a non-Jew defend the Passion of Christ. It just seems so quaint.

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  3. Anonymous1:22 AM

    Surprise, surprise, I am... Canadian and I happen to live in Paris since 12 years!
    So much for your anti-French comment...
    Regarding the French being "experts at giving Jews to Nazis", may I urge you to look at statistics on the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial website and you will see that few French Jews perished by Nazi extermination, in proportion a very small number compared to the rest of European countries...
    French Anti-Semitism is a myth.
    May I remind you that France has the world's third biggest Jewish community (600 000 people).

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  4. Anonymous1:31 AM

    http://www1.yadvashem.org/Odot/prog/index_before_change_table.asp?gate=5-4

    This is the link to Yad Vashem mentioned in my other email

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  5. Anonymous3:26 AM

    Start with your quote:
    "One of the main tenets is that the animal live a good life, and die a painfree death."

    Then add a later comment:
    "I have not seen the video, but you seem to miss the point."

    You basically do not support the concept of verifying the main tenet, which is a valid one. I assume you prefer to blindly accept that whomever runs the programs are doing so necessarily in good faith, not bilnedd by their own. What does transpire is the willingness to go guerilla yourself and adapt pre-conceived notions to an argument.

    State those things blatantly to my ressource-poor ancestors (oh horror, they were French. Make things worse, Parisian) who harboured many Jewish families in their rented house. Repeat those phrases to those hosted families.

    Think. Pouring acid won't help.

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  6. Well, I hadn't thought of responding to the two other commenters, but now it appears that another commenter thinks I'm the author of one of the comments. I'm not. In truth, I'm just happy that my blog is being read in France :-).

    My post is not based on whether or not Agriprocessors is following the laws of Kashrut and schechita, but whether or not a good reactive campaign had been set-up by the rabbinical council and Agriprocessors.

    My point is that, while I am not a fan of PETA, they do know how to put together a killer grassroots campaign against their targets. Some of these tactics work, and should have been adopted immediately by Agriprocessors. The campaigns would have worked for Agriprocessors and the rabbinical groups because they are tied into religion, defending a right and the laws of kosher. Plus, with the past campaigns of PETA being less than sensitive, the Jewish groups would have had an upper hand. Would such a campaign work for KFC? I highly doubt it.

    The Passion of Chris comment was a joke that might have been too sublime for some of the readers of this blog. The man who was in charge of the PR campaign is Jewish - I'm sure there are a few blogs out there that might have brought this up. Love or hate the movie, the PR campaign was pure genius.

    The last line on my posting sums up my views on the PETA issue: in such crises as this, it is always an option to reach out to the constituency, to fight grass roots with grass roots (or, fake grassroots with astroturf).

    That's it in a nutshell,
    Jeremy Pepper

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  7. Anonymous9:26 PM

    I disagree with your recommendation that the best way to fight groups like PETA, or PETA specifically, is to "fight fire with fire."

    Groups like PETA thrive on publicity - whether good or bad. PETA will gain the upperhand by exposing the public towards stomach-turning descriptions and images such as those available on the Kosher slaughter at: http://www.goveg.com/feat/agriprocessors/

    By fighting fire with fire, you are creating a bigger flame for all to see.

    Imagine for a second, you are the public and you see someone trying to paint PETA to be anti-Semitism and what is going on at Agriprocessors as humane, and then you see sights of screaming cows trying to stand up after having their throats ripped out.

    Who would you believe?

    This is a PR game that Lubicom and Agriprocessors will not win, and has actually been losing. What they should have done is to condemn the abuse, work directly with PETA to address all their concerns, and actually fix the problems.

    Any improvement in animal welfare will be cheaper - and not to mention, much more moral - than weathering a PETA PR campaign.

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  8. Thank you for reading my blog, but I also disagree. And, as for publicity, thanks for not hyperlinking the link to Go Veg.

    Society, as a whole, has become desensitized. It's more of a "that's gross" than "oh, that's just wrong."

    But, that desensitization would explain why PETA thought it was cool to equate dinner to the Holocaust, and then to send off a letter to Arafat complaining about donkeys dying in Israel.

    Take a step back - if you were a Jewish group, would you work with a group that equated a mass murder of your relatives as nothing more than dinner?

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  9. Megan5:56 PM

    Look, I HATE PETA!!!!! I think what they stand for is ludicrous! I’m a dairy producer, I don’t think it’s cruel to milk cows; much less butcher them. Jews just have a different and belief on slaughtering an animal. Period. I will never believe that an animal has the same rights as a human being.

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  10. I can't say I disagree. I'll check to see the consensus. Happy mother's day!

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  11. Anonymous8:55 AM

    Answer to Marc-Antoine:

    1. I have seen far more anti-Semitism personally in France than any other country.

    2. Yad Vashem has only a couple thousand righteous French. The majority collaborated.

    3. Marc-Antoine cannot hide that the French shipped 77,000 Jews to the gas chambers.

    4. France's race theorists like Drumont and Gobineau fed Hitler his ideas.

    5. Most French Jews I know discuss leaving frequently.

    6. French Jews live in fear.

    7. French media show Palestinian deaths over and over with no context and show few Jewish deaths.

    8. The result was five years of massive anti-Semitic violence by Muslims in France, 2000-2004, with official France doing little until the problem became an epidemic.

    9. France2 false al-Dura film was reason for Muslims beheading Nick Berg.

    10. France gave massive money to Arafat which he spent on killing Jews.

    11. France is right now protecting Hizbullah from Israel.

    12. Worse, France is allowing Hizbullah to re-arm so as to carry out its genocidal intent against Israel.

    13. Despite occasionally politically correct words, France is Israel's principal enemy outside the Muslim world and is actively encouraging violence against Jews as well as the elimination of Israel.

    14. Personally I think Israel should retaliate against France with nuclear weapons.

    Oh, and a few members of my family are French Jews. They confirm everything I say above.

    Death to France, the shittiest little country on the planet.

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  12. Anonymous11:27 PM

    The Hekhsher Tzedek movement, led by Rabbi Morris Allen of Minnesota, is striving for a new rabbinic certification of kosher products. The ordinary "Hekhsher" certifies that a product satisfies the technical requirements of kashruth. An additional "Hekhsher Tzedek" would certify that the product was produced in a manner that involved fair treatment of workers, a safe workplace, humane treatment of animals, and was environmentally friendly. More information can be obtained at www.hekhshertzedek.org

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