Jul 12, 2008 22:52
By MICHAL LANDO, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT IN NEW YORK
The PR firm hired to represent kosher meat plant Agriprocessors is being accused of posting comments on the Internet under fraudulent names to promote its client. Such tactics bear a striking resemblance to those Agriprocessors itself has been accused of, following the recent immigration raid.
The New York firm, 5W Public Relations - whose clients include McDonald's, pornographer Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild, Pastor John Hagee and a slew of right-wing Jewish organizations - was accused last Wednesday of posting comments on several Jewish Web sites using a false identity. The first to be discovered were posted on FailedMessiah.com, a blog that has written extensively about the Orthodox world.
The man behind the site, Minnesota-based blogger Shmarya Rosenberg, has been closely following the recent raid on the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa that has stirred the kosher-consuming public in the last few months. In recent weeks, a number of comments that seemed to advocate on behalf of the Brooklyn-based owners of the plant caught Rosenberg's attention.
"It's rare to have so many taking the same basic point of view," said Rosenberg. "The comments that were favorable to Agri read like talking points from a PR firm."
Posted under names of critics of the slaughter company, the comments came from 5WPR. Rosenberg said he had chosen not to pursue it at first.
"I let it ride for a while in the hopes they [had] stopped," said Rosenberg.
But two days ago, Rosenberg was moved to speak out when he noticed two comments under the name of Rabbi Morris Allen, founder of the Conservative Movement's Heksher Tzedek initiative, which is attempting to create an ethical standards-based certification for kosher food. Rosenberg checked the IP address and saw the comments had come from the same 5WPR address.
Both comments were in response to a blog post about the Orthodox social justice group Uri L'Tzedek's decision to end its boycott of the company this week. At the time the comments were made, Allen was attending the funeral of a family member in Omaha, Nebraska.
Allen said he had first been notified of the comments on Wednesday morning by a concerned friend.
"I told them I hadn't been on-line for three days, and it couldn't have been me," said Allen, who has since spoken to a lawyer and the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement to discuss how to pursue the issue.
"Agriprocessors is being investigated for encouraging identity theft, and for their PR company to now feel it's appropriate to steal my identity seems too eerily similar to the company's behavior," said Allen.
The discovery of the fraudulent comments came just days after the arrest of two plant supervisors on charges of aiding and abetting the use of fraudulent identification. Juan Carlos Guerrero Espinoza and Martin De la Rosa Loera are the first supervisory workers to be charged.
A third warrant was issued for another supervisor, Hosam Amara, a 43-year-old said to be of Palestinian origin who was rumored to have fled Postville the week after the raid.
5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian, who is on vacation in Mexico, said an "internal investigation is taking place to assess the authenticity of the claims."
Meanwhile, other employees at the firm have acknowledged that an intern was responsible for the comments on the FailedMessiah blog.
Since the comments were discovered on FailedMessiah, others have emerged on a scattering of Jewish Web sites. A comment posted on a JTA story Wednesday, also under Allen's name, has since been removed.
The Orthodox blog "Vos Iz Neias" confirmed that five comments posted on their site starting June 18 had come from a 5WPR address. The last appeared July 8.
All comments portray Allen as using allegations against Agriprocessors to promote Heksher Tzedek.
"Clearly, for whatever reason, people at Agri have decided that we are a major threat to them," said Allen, who has not received an apology from the PR firm.
"This is part of a larger pattern, not something new. What is new is [that] now they think they can steal my name and use it for their purposes. The rabbis are very clear - unlike coins, humans all are different. For better or worse, there is one Morris Allen, and I will rise or fall on my own record, not someone else's fantasy of who I am."