column

Anti-haredi sentiment and the boycott of Angel Bakeries

Former Public Security Minister Omer Barlev is a private citizen with the rights that entails. But he’s also the chairman of a commercial enterprise who ought to take his position into account while bashing a community of consumers.

Former Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, chairman of the board of Angel Bakeries, at a "Brothers in Arms" protest outside the home of venerated Rabbi Gershon Edelstein in Bnei Brak, May 4, 2023. Photo by Flash90.
Former Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, chairman of the board of Angel Bakeries, at a "Brothers in Arms" protest outside the home of venerated Rabbi Gershon Edelstein in Bnei Brak, May 4, 2023. Photo by Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

As the leaders of Israel’s protest movement have acknowledged, judicial-reform legislation is only part of the impetus for the demonstrations. This is why the pause in the process to enable negotiations didn’t cause them to put the Saturday-night rallies and intermittent “days of disruption” on hold.

Indeed, safeguarding “d-e-m-o-c-r-a-c-y” from the authoritarians bent on desecrating the sanctity of the hallowed Supreme Court is merely a catchall slogan for the real aim of the rallies: to topple the government. Hence the alternating headlines for the regular events.

The title of Thursday’s happening, for instance, was “Day of Equality.” This one focused on exemptions from military service for Torah-studying haredim.

The long standing bone of contention has once again come to the fore, due to its having been a coalition condition of the haredi parties. But it was just an excuse to reinvigorate the waning enthusiasm of those who’ve grown a bit weary of waving flags at intersections, particularly in increasingly hot weather.

Though the idea was clever—since targeting “black hats” is a favored pastime of the Israeli left—it didn’t pan out as hoped. Nevertheless, it stirred up a separate controversy that’s causing apoplexy among the chattering classes.

The brouhaha began when former Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, a key honcho of the protest movement, participated in a “Brothers in Arms” demonstration in Bnei Brak, outside the home of Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, a highly venerated figure in the haredi community. Along with a selfie on social media, he added the text: “Beyond and in addition to the importance of military service for everyone, the law of ‘no equality in the burden’ that the coalition intends to enact is the bribe being paid to the haredi parties by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Justice Minister Yariv] Levin so that they’ll vote in favor of the coup d’état.”

Never mind that the words “bribe” and “coup” constitute a total misrepresentation of the democratically elected parties that make up the government. Barlev is a member of Labor, whose poor showing at the ballot box on Nov. 1 left him out of a job—in the Knesset, that is.

Today, he earns a living as the chairman of the board of Angel Bakeries, which controls a third of the country’s bread market. Haredim, who have big families and therefore are large consumers of Angel products, decided to counter Barlev’s purposely offensive act by a boycott of the company’s goods.

This elicited a vile response from Yoel Spiegel, grandson of the founder of Angel and nephew of its CEO. In a Facebook post on Friday that he has since deleted, Spiegel wrote: “There is no limit to the chutzpah of part of the ultra-Orthodox public in Israel. They eat for free … evade army service, have dark opinions and, above all, are hypocrites! Omer Barlev is the chairman of the board of the Angel bakery (the same bakery that my grandfather and his brother founded more than a century ago and of which my uncle has been the CEO for many years). But above his position as chairman of the board, he is a citizen of the State of Israel (a citizen with many rights, in light of his past). As such, he has the right to protest wherever and whenever he chooses, as long as he does so within the framework of the law.”

Nobody, including the haredi community, disputes Barlev’s freedom to demonstrate. So Spiegel’s was simply the kind of bashing that is rightly categorized as anti-Semitic when voiced by non-Jews beyond Israel’s borders.

Ditto for the maneuver pulled by an affluent left-wing activist, who purchased the entire stock of Angel challah from a store in Bnei Brak and invited passers-by to help themselves to the loaves at no cost. The ploy to expose them as “moochers” failed, however, because the crates were left untouched by neighborhood residents.

All that the above accomplished, thus, was to strengthen the resolve of haredim and others incensed by the baseless hatred for a whole sector of society to exert pressure on Angel to penalize its chairman. The fact that Spiegel swiftly removed his tirade seems to suggest that he was reprimanded by the bosses at Angel.

It’s a business, after all, which needs to retain its customers. Why, then, didn’t it bother to release a statement clarifying its position on Barlev’s behavior?

True, Barlev is a private citizen with the rights that entails. Still, he’s also the chairman of a commercial enterprise who ought to take his position into account while engaged in very nasty political battles.

Unless and until he suffers consequences for the latter, Angel will have to bear the brunt of the ramifications, and deservedly so.

Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ” 

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