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Is Rubashkin commutation beef about Schumer fair?
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Is Rubashkin commutation beef about Schumer fair?

With the former kosher meat manufacturer now free, questions over the Trump action and the reaction

After rejoicing over President Donald Trump’s commutation of the 27-year prison sentence of Shalom Rubashkin, many Orthodox Jews are now leveling blistering diatribes at Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) for his refusal to write a letter to the president on Rubashkin’s behalf.

The criticism was heighted by the fact that in announcing his decision to free the former CEO of an Iowa kosher meat plant, Trump cited the many letters he received asking him to review what has been called the “patently unjust and draconian 27-year prison sentence” meted out to Rubashkin, a member of the Lubavitch community, for bank fraud and money laundering. 

In fact, the very first sentence of the White House statement announcing the action said it was “encouraged by bipartisan leaders from across the political spectrum, from Nancy Pelosi to Orrin Hatch,” referring respectively to the Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and the conservative Republican senator from Utah.

And the White House also decided to release a stack of letters from more than 100 members of Congress, law professors, federal judges, former attorneys general, FBI directors, solicitors general, United States attorneys, and state attorneys general. Among them were former New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Among the members of Congress who sent letters were N.J. representatives Bill Pascrell, Albio Sires, and Chris Smith; N.Y. representatives Eliot Engel, Jerrold Nadler, and Carolyn Maloney; and Florida’s Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Although Schumer’s office has never directly weighed in on issues of commutation in the past, members of the Orthodox community vented their anger about Schumer’s inaction in more than 80 scathing comments posted on the website of Yeshiva World. The posts followed a column in support of Schumer written by Ezra Friedlander, a public relations professional, who wrote that he was “amazed at how our community manages to shoot ourselves in the foot and display our political immaturity to the world. Or perhaps the right verbiage here might be ‘political suicide.’

“Dear readers: Do you think for one moment that Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, is not in contact with Schumer, Democratic leader of the Senate, on a daily basis?? Do you think they don’t work together to formulate the official policy of the Democratic caucus? Wouldn’t you think that Schumer had given her the green light of approval before she decided to write a letter as sensitive as this to President Trump? Are we really so immature not to realize this? In my opinion, this proves that those who are writing these opinions have zero understanding of the governmental process.”

Friedlander noted: “It’s never a good idea to try to convince an elected official that he is not our friend…. When you declare someone as your enemy, that is eventually what he will come to be. Once we write him off, this is how he will come to be perceived. And that is not responsible politics for our Jewish community.”

Among the readers’ replies:

  • “The writer is treating the community as if they are dumb sheep who should follow his advice. He’s basically saying don’t make me look bad in front of my buddy Chuck. He’s concocting arguments out of thin air as to why Chuck did not have to personally write a letter and degrading Pelosi in the process by saying that she doesn’t move without Schumer’s Consent.”
  • “Pelosi didn’t consult with Schumer re: Rubashkin. This wasn’t a national security issue with huge ramifications, just a basic humanitarian one … that required basic human decency and mentchlichkeit, which Pelosi had and Schumer didn’t.”
  • “Don’t insult us by saying YOU have the right to speak, but WE don’t because we don’t know anything. WE aren’t stupid and we will decide who is good for frum Yidden [observant Jews] & who isn’t.”
  • “Your contention that we need to refrain from disagreeing vehemently with politicians reminds me of the world 100 years ago when it was in the Jewish community’s best interest to praise dictatorial rulers out of fear of reprisal against us. I believe we live in a different era now in which it is important that politicians hear how the Jewish community feels about their positions.”

But while many in the Orthodox community embraced Rubashkin, 57 and the father of 10, and welcomed him home like a conquering hero, others noted the severity of his crime and the fact that Trump is still requiring him to pay restitution and the conviction remains on his record. He served more than eight years in prison following the 2008 federal raid on his plant that resulted in the arrest of nearly 400 undocumented workers, including some children. 

Although immigration charges were later dropped, the raid led the company, Agriprocessors, to declare bankruptcy, which prompted an inspection of the company’s books. That revealed suspicious invoices and sales records designed to inflate the company’s true value and allowed it to borrow on a $35 million line of credit. In the end, a St. Louis bank lost $27 million.

Rabbi Morris Allen, an advocate for ethical values in kosher slaughtering, was quoted as pointing out that Rubashkin’s business model “was built on the exploitation of his immigrant labor force, indifference to the environmental damage caused by his plant, and unnecessary pain and suffering for the animals that he slaughtered. Indeed, as many inside his piece of the Jewish community celebrate his release, many others are wondering when the Jewish community as a whole will come to grips with the ethics demanded of us in the production of kosher food.”

And Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who heads T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights group, was equally dismissive of Rubashkin, reportedly saying: “Eight years or 27 years or any number of years is unlikely to move him toward a place where he has more compassion for immigrants and workers.”

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