Why Did PETA Target Jews?

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Nathan Lewin, a well-known Orthodox lawyer in Washington and counsel for AgriProcessors, has Some Questions for PETA in the Jewish Week.

In it, he asks why PETA seems to have no comparable video of a non-kosher slaughterhouse, even to provide a point of reference for comparison purposes. As I said in my first entry on this topic, death isn’t pretty, no matter how humane. A source (that prefers to remain anonymous) went further with his speculation on why PETA would focus on a kosher plant, and reached an all-too-realistic conclusion:

Since their own website admits that there are terrible atrocities at non-kosher plants, why did they choose to focus on the kosher plant by making a video and then releasing it to the media? If it is true that they have videos on nonkosher plants, then why didn’t they choose one of these videos for their big publicity campaign? After all, the majority of meat sold in America is not kosher, and Jews are less then 3% percent of the American population. And one would think that after offending Jews in their last publicity-seeking exhibit [“Holocaust on Your Plate”, which compared the slaughter of chickens to the Nazi Holocaust], they might want to avoid giving the impression that they are targeting Jews. The very fact that they chose to focus on a kosher plant is therefore very suspicious…

My father raised me to to be a radical social activist; however, at a later stage of life I decided that helping to spread ethical and spiritual values is the best way for me to contribute to tikun olam. Neverthess, I always remembered the skills my father taught me, and my father was an expert on how to get publicity for any cause he was working for. Unlike PETA, however, he succeeded without offending or degrading other human beings. I am therefore streetwise about publicity, and I can understand a likely reason why PETA chose to focus on a Jewish plant. Experts on journalism know that news about Israel and/or the Jewish people get an unusual amount of coverage in the western media. The famous journalist David Shipler and others have written about this. And the resulting publicity that Peta got over the Jewish-owned plant proves that the journalists are correct: News about Jews gets publicity.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, sent out the following through Am Echad Resources. I know R’ Avi reads Cross-Currents, and buried within his article I think you’ll find a thought or two expressed here already — but his presentation expresses quite clearly why the Orthodox community is taking such a strong stand against PETA, even while improvements are happening at Rubashkin.

The PETA Principle
by Rabbi Avi Shafran

Now that the blood has settled, a clearer perspective might be had about the recent brouhaha over shechita, or Jewish ritual slaughter, at a meat-processing plant in Iowa.

Yes, the beginning of that sentence was meant to jar. Blood and attendant unpleasantness are part and parcel of the process of turning livestock into meat, and most people are content to interact only with the final product.

Some, though, choose not to do even that. They include people who are repulsed by the thought of eating what was once alive, and others who feel that meat consumption is a wasteful use of natural resources. Yet others shun meat for health or religious reasons.

And then there are the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, who object to all killing of animals because, as Ingrid Newkirk, the group’s co-founder and president, famously put it, “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” – because of their belief, in other words, that animals are no different from humans.

The Jewish religious tradition forbids causing animals unnecessary pain. And there are observant Jews who are vegetarians; our tradition even teaches that the first man and woman – indeed all of humanity until Noah – were divinely forbidden to eat meat. But the Jewish faith expressly permits the killing of animals for human needs, including food. Which animals may be eaten and how to dispatch them are topics dealt with at considerable length in Jewish legal literature.

Indeed, the “PETA Principle,” the moral equating of animals and humans, is an affront to the very essence of Jewish belief, which exalts the human being, alone among G-d’s creations, as, among other things, the possessor of free will, a being capable of choosing to do good or bad. That distinction is introduced in Genesis, where the first man is commanded to “rule over” the animal world.

The notion that humans are mere animals can lead to ethical obscenities, like PETA’s appeal to the director of the federal penitentiary where Timothy McVeigh was awaiting execution, that the mass murderer not be served meat so that he “not be allowed to take even one more life.” Or the group’s lodging of a protest with Yasir Arafat over a terrorist attack because the donkey carrying the explosives detonated in the attack was killed. Or its “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign, comparing the killing of chickens and cows to the murder of Jewish men, women and children. Or solemn declarations like Ms. Newkirk’s that “Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.”

And so when PETA launched a media blitz several weeks ago, sending scores of journalists and others copies of surreptitiously filmed and carefully edited videotapes of animals being slaughtered at the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa – the largest producer of “glatt” – or highest-standard – kosher meat in the nation – the immediate reaction on the part of some Jewish organizations and many of those in the kosher food industry was understandably negative.

The video, to be sure, was disturbing. Although the PETA “mole” who secretly recorded the film likely witnessed thousands of unremarkable slaughters during his months on the job, the edited film showed a number of animals that seemed conscious after the act of shechita. In one case, an animal even righted itself and took several steps before collapsing.

Every method of animal slaughter yields a small percentage of such unfortunate results, when some degree of consciousness persists longer than it should. What PETA claims, though, is that what was depicted on its edited video of operations at the Iowa plant represents fully a quarter of the animals slaughtered over the seven-week period during which the video was made.

There is reason to be skeptical about this claim. A subsequent visit to the plant by Dr. I.M. Levinger, a veterinary surgeon and physiologist, yielded his testimony that, of the as many as 150 animals he saw slaughtered over the course of his two-day visit, only a single cow exhibited any conscious activity after shechita.

What is more, USDA inspectors are typically present on the killing floor during animal slaughter, to ensure that the process complies with federal standards. The inspectors present at the Postville plant during the period PETA compiled the images in its video presumably saw the entire picture, and never complained about any inordinately high number of post-slaughter displays of consciousness. A high-level USDA official, for that matter, visited the plant after PETA released its video to personally observe the allegedly inhumane practices and take appropriate action; what he saw apparently persuaded him that there was no need to shut down the plant or alter its basic practices.

Likewise, top officials from the kashrut organizations that certify AgriProcessors’ meat visited the plant to monitor the shechita process and found that signs of post-slaughter consciousness were extremely rare. Indeed, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, Patty Judge, who had initially expressed her deep chagrin after watching PETA’s video – even calling for a federal investigation – concluded, after a personal visit to the plant, that the shechita there “…was humane… and there was absolutely no problem with the way they [the animals] were handled.”

Those personal observations confirm what scientific theory would have predicted: that the incidence of displays of post-slaughter consciousness is more rare in cases of shechita than when non-kosher methods of slaughter are employed. That is because, as Dr. S.D. Rosen, MA, MD, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College, London, noted earlier this year in a monograph in the Veterinary Record, studies have shown that after the cutting of the trachea, esophagus and carotid arteries – the shechita process in essence – an animal’s consciousness is lost within approximately two seconds, and irreversibly.

The evidence would appear to suggest, therefore, that PETA is grossly exaggerating the frequency of post-shechita signs of consciousness at the Iowa plant. Perhaps it should not be surprising that PETA’s 25% figure differs so dramatically from what others have seen. Because, while the group’s concern that animals not be caused unnecessary pain is commendable, PETA also has an ultimate, and openly declared, goal: to stop people from eating meat. And so, if a bit of dissembling is necessary to move in that direction, well… wouldn’t you stretch the truth to save Jews from Nazis?

Precision, though, is not the only thing PETA seems prepared to sacrifice in order to achieve its goal. Our nation’s commitment to religious liberty, in PETA’s eyes, is eminently expendable as well.

Even though the Iowa plant has discontinued a bleeding-facilitating arterial cut that PETA deemed a “dismemberment” of live animals, the animal rights group is now demanding, among other things, that U.S. government regulations regarding animal slaughter be changed in fundamental ways and that the type of restraining pen required by some decisors of Jewish law be outlawed. These are not minor points; they touch, and not gently, upon the issue of rabbinic authority and religious autonomy. And that game is zero-sum: What constitutes proper animal-slaughter methods for observant American Jews will necessarily be determined in the future either by rabbis or by advocates for animal-rights.

Shechita was attacked and outlawed by the Nazis when they came to power in Germany. Today, animal rights activists have succeeded in banning it in several European and Scandinavian countries. If PETA’s misleading campaign is not seen for the partisan salvo it is, our own country may be next.

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6 Responses

  1. Charissa says:

    The greatness of a nation and its people will be measured by the way in which it treats its animals. Jewish, Christian, atheist, Muslim, or whatever the color your belief may be, Agriprocessors treatment is repulsive. Comparing it to this processing plant or that processing plant or this situation or that situation will NOT lessen the horror of what is shown in the PETA video. The Jewish community along with the world community should rise up in these situations, else the United States, and you and I, be measured as cowards.

  2. Shmarya says:

    I have Dr. Rosen’s article. I represented it correctly. Shafran lied.

    As for Rubashkin:

    1. He has admitted no wrong.
    2. Any changes made have not been set in stone. They themselves may change as soon as public pressure abates.
    3. The OU’s mandated changes have never been clearly stated. Will the second cut (which was still taking place when Iowa’s Ag Sec visited Postville) be done by a shochet with a chalaf? Or will it revert back to an undertrained, non-Jewish worker with a knife or even a hook?
    4. Lewin and Shafran both wrote things that are not true. It would seem difficult to believe that those ‘mistakes’ were unintentional.
    5. Again, there are reams of evidence showing that Rubashkin mistreated animals. Why did he do so? Was it cruelty? Was it due to financial motives? Was it laziness? Sloppiness? Was it all one big, years-long mistake?

    I don’t yet know the answer to that question. Neither do you. Neither does Shafran. Neither does Lewin.

    Shechita is not under attack, but rabbis who permitted tzaar baalei hayyim are. Perhaps that is why you find it so difficult to truthfully report on the situation.

  3. Hanan says:

    Im not sure if PETA not having a comparable video from a non-kosher slaughtering plant is enough to warrant calling them anti-semitic. Sure PETA has their own agenda. If it was up to them, we would be all eating grass along with the rest of the cows. Even their attack, equating slaughtering chickens with the holocaust is just another example of them searching for the spot light. They have to do this, or noone will pay attention to them… and yet I would still not call that anti-semitic. The fact of the matter is that sometimes the biggest jerk in the world can make a credible point. If Rubashkin made mistakes in their shchita, deliberatly or not, let it be fixed… and if not, great. But how about we continue on to another topic, and stop giving PETA anymore airtime than they deserve.

  4. Yaakov Menken says:

    Accusing someone who asks a question of “lying” is a non-sequitur. Lewin asks PETA, “Do you have comparable ‘undercover’ video of a non-kosher slaughtering plant or of another kosher plant?” I do not see, on their web site, any similar attack on a named slaughtering plant, certainly not complete with video. If there is one, please post the link along with a description of how easy it is to find that link from PETA’s home page.

    Rabbi Shafran quotes Dr. S.D. Rosen, MA, MD, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College, London — there is no sign that Dr. Rosen was discussing shechita specifically at all, much less in a particular position.

    If Dr. Levinger has witnessed the “new” process and testified that the “old” process is no longer in use and the problems have been corrected, then why is PETA still showing the “old” video and attacking Rubashkin? Why, for that matter, is Shmarya? It seems likely that the answers have less to do with cruelty to animals than animosity towards meat consumption and Rubashkin (who is, as mentioned, a Lubavitcher) respectively.

  5. Shmarya says:

    There are so many mis-statements and lies in this Shafran piece and in Lewin’s piece, too.

    2 seconds to unconsciousness: Only true for standing shechita in an ASPC pen with carotids and jugulars severed, and then only with the best shochtim. You can’t compare that to Rubashkin’s procedure or his shochtim.

    PETA only went after kosher: NONSENSE! Look at heir website. They’ve come out against non-kosher also. Shafran and Lewin are simply lying.

    Levinger: He saw the “new” version of Rubashkin shechita, with no throat-ripping, hand-picked shochtim, and a shochet not a non-Jewish employee doing a second cut. In other words, NOT the shechita Rubashkin was doing a month ago.

    The top USDA official: The USDA has distanced himself from Dr. Lawson’s quoted remarks, because HE IS ALSO UNDER INVESTIGATION. Why? He was the head of the USDA at Rubashkin. He also can not legally speak to the media. That is why his “quote” is always written as R. Genack, Kohn or Belsky SAYING “Dr. Henry Lawso told us ” I called R. Genack on this and he said, “So what? He’s speaking as an invidual then, not part of the USDA.” The next day, R. Genack represented LAwson to the media as a senor memeber of the USDA.

    PETA and the USDA have more than 5 hours of video tape.

    Why AGUDATH ISRAEL and Lewin insist on lying is beyond me.

  1. December 28, 2004

    […] following the distribution of the latter’s “The PETA Principle” which I published earlier. As I said much earlier on, it seems that some peop […]