May 6, 2005

5/5/05 Special JVNA Newlsetter - PETA Apology

Shalom everyone,

This special Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter is devoted to PETA’s apology for its “Holocaust On Your Plate Campaign.”

The newsletter has the following items:

1. PETA issues an Apology for Its “Holocaust on Your Plate” Campaign

3. Jerusalem Post Article On PETA’s Apology/Please Write

4. My Sample Letter to the Jerusalem Post/Please Also Write

5. JTA Item on PETA’s Apology

[Materials in brackets like this [ ] within an article or forwarded message are my editorial notes/comments.]

Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the JVNA, unless otherwise indicated, but may be presented to increase awareness and/or to encourage respectful dialogue.

As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.


1. PETA issues an Apology for Its “Holocaust on Your Plate” Campaign

Below is PETA’s long awaited apology. Responses on how to best respond are welcome. Below is a draft of a JVNA press release and a sample letter to the editor. Suggestions welcome. I hope that PETA’s apology will result in increased attention to the many moral issues related to typical American diets.

Apology for the hurt caused by PETA’s “Holocaust on Your Plate” Campaign
by Ingrid Newkirk, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

When the investigative footage of the violations at the AgriProcessors glatt kosher slaughterhouse was released last December, an observant Jewish staff member here at PETA suggested that we consider referencing the classic Yiddish song “Dona, Dona” to convey the horror of the calves who are transported to slaughter, and perhaps use its haunting music to accompany the video images. When I consulted with other Jewish staff and PETA advisors, some thought that this was an offensive and inappropriate use of the song, which alludes to the journey to concentration camps.

This renewed the heated debates that were provoked during the “Holocaust on Your Plate” Campaign, taking me back to the mental wrangling that we have experienced here over the profound conflicts that comparisons to the Holocaust generate, and the diversity of complex positions on these issues within the Jewish community, even among Jews who are aligned with animal rights—including those at PETA. What was originally thought of as a simple, melancholic song incited a spectrum of passionate and visceral reactions. We decided not to use the song in connection with the AgriProcessors case, and I have decided to apologize for the pain caused by the “Holocaust on Your Plate” Campaign.

When “Holocaust on Your Plate” was originally launched, we knew that it would be emotionally charged and intellectually provocative. Even if we had used more conventional tactics, people don’t like to have it pointed out to them that they’re causing unnecessary pain and suffering by eating meat. We did aim to be provocative. We did not, however, aim simply to provoke.

Hard as it may be to understand for those who were deeply upset by this campaign, I was bowled over by the negative reception by many in the Jewish community. It was both unintended and unexpected. The PETA staff who proposed that we do it were Jewish, and the patronage for the entire endeavor was Jewish. We were careful to use Jewish authors and scholars and quotes from Holocaust victims and survivors. And since Judaism has some of the strongest teachings regarding compassion for animals among the monotheistic faiths, I truly believed, as did the Jewish staff members who proposed the exhibit, that a large segment of the Jewish community would support it.

We had also seen the positive response to Holocaust scholar Charles Patterson’s book, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, and felt that our exhibit was very much in keeping both with the spirit and goals of his book, as well as the history that he documents, which finds more and more Jews opting for vegetarian diets as a part of their response to the Holocaust—a response through which “Never Again” is applied to humans and other animals.

The Orthodox Jewish Press wrote, “Charles Patterson’s book gives us pause for thought, and if killing and consuming our animal protein is a societal cause of homicide and genocide then we must stop to give some consideration. After all, foods of animal origin are especially prone for causing most of our major illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.” And a member of the editorial staff at the daily Israeli paper, Ha'aretz, wrote, “this is a thorough and thought-provoking book. If the linkage of animal rights and the Holocaust seems startling at first, it begins to make perfect sense as one reads on. Some might see this as trivialization of the Holocaust; it isn't. Instead, the chilling parallels Patterson exposes seem to offer even more reason to despair of the human race.”

Another daily paper from Israel, Maariv, opined, “the moral challenge posed by Eternal Treblinka turns it into a must for anyone who seeks to delve into the universal lesson of the Holocaust... .” And the influential Jerusalem Post stated, “Even if you are not persuaded to give up meat meals for moral reasons, at least you will never be able to say of the suffering behind them: ‘I didn't know... .’” Similar responses have been published in Jewish papers all over the world.

The “Holocaust on Your Plate” Campaign was designed to sensitize people to different forms of systematic degradation and exploitation, and the logic and methods employed in factory farms and slaughterhouses are analogous to those used in concentration camps. We realize that many people—Jews and non-Jews alike—cannot see through the pain and horror of what was done to human beings to agree, but to our minds, both systems are hideous and devastating. We understand both systems to be based in a moral equation indicating that “might makes right” and premised on a conception of other cultures or other species as deficient and thus disposable. Each has its own unique mechanisms and purposes, but both result in immeasurable, unnecessary suffering for those who are innocent and unable to defend themselves.

As with the song “Dona, Dona,” we had hoped to draw attention to the common, terrifying experience of the condemned en route to their horrible and unnecessary slaughter. We recognize that the analogy made in “Dona Dona” resonates as more than a rhetorical or literary comparison, especially to those for whom the experience is still too personal to universalize. The differences cannot be translated or reduced to a metaphor, particularly for the victims and survivors who still bear physical and emotional scars of persecution and for the Jewish community still so horribly vulnerable to continued acts of anti-Semitism.

We sincerely wished to bridge these different forms of systematic abuse. By showing how humans were treated “like animals,” it was never our goal to humiliate the victims further—instead we hoped to shed light on the process through which any living being can be reduced to an interchangeable, disposable “thing.” The tragic irony is that on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, even animals are not treated “like animals”—everything about their lives is a grotesque mockery of all that is natural to them.

We believe that we humans can and should use our distinctive capacities to reduce suffering in the world. Even the vegan diet that we endorse out of concern for animal suffering promotes human health, protects the environment, and liberates us from violent practices, as Dr. Richard Schwartz makes so clear in his book Judaism and Vegetarianism. These are all goals directed at alleviating human suffering as well as that of other beings.

Our mission is a profoundly human one at its heart, yet we know that we have caused pain. This was never our intention, and we are deeply sorry. We hope that you can understand that although we embarked on the “Holocaust on Your Plate” project with misconceptions about what its impact would be, we always try to act with integrity, with the goal of improving the lives of those who suffer. We hope those we upset will find it in their hearts to work toward the goal of a kinder world for all, regardless of species.

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3. Jerusalem Post Article On PETA’s Apology/Please Write

May 5, 2005

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a radical US-based animal rights group, apologized Thursday for its 2003 'Holocaust on Your Plate' campaign against meat consumption, but reiterated the belief that human suffering is equivalent to the suffering of animals.

In a statement e-mailed to the Jewish press and Jewish rights groups to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk explained that the "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign meant to show that "the logic and methods employed in factory farms and slaughterhouses are analogous to those used in concentration camp". Newkirk went on to write that, "We realize that many people - Jews and non-Jews alike - cannot see through the pain and horror of what was done to human beings to agree, but to our minds, both systems [slaughterhouses and the Holocaust] are hideous and devastating." "Both systems [are] based on the moral equation indicating that "might makes right" and premised on a conception of other cultures or other species as deficient and thus disposable. Each has its own unique mechanisms and purposes, but both result in immeasurable, unnecessary suffering for those who are innocent and unable to defend themselves."

Although most of PETA statement was devoted to explaining the rationale behind launching the campaign, Newkirk also offered a terse apology: "I have decided to apologize for the pain caused by the "Holocaust on Your Plate" Campaign."

In response, US-based Anti Defamation League (ADL) spokesperson Myrna Shinbaum, who is presently in Israel, said: "I am glad they finally see the light".

"If they finally understand the pain caused by likening the suffering of animals to the Holocaust that's a good thing." Shinbaum went on to say that, "The abusive treatment of animals is wrong, but it should stand on its own".

In March 2003 PETA launched a graphic campaign and exhibit entitled "Holocaust on Your Plate," that juxtaposed 60-square-foot panels displaying gruesome scenes from Nazi death camps side by side with disturbing photographs from factory farms and slaughterhouses. One shows a starving man in a concentration camp next to a starving cow.

In a press release that announced the ad's launch PETA explained that it was "inspired by the words of Jewish scholars" and aimed to "stimulate contemplation of how the victimization of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others characterized as 'life unworthy of life' during the Holocaust parallels the way that modern society abuses and justifies the slaughter of animals."

PETA have explained that the concept for the campaign originated with a quote from a book by Nobel Prize-winning Yiddish author and vegetarian Isaac Bashevis Singer. In "Enemies: A Love Story" the main character, musing on the plight of animals, states that "In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for [them], it is an eternal Treblinka."

Another "Jewish scholar" cited by PETA is philosopher Dr. Helmut Kaplan, a Professor at the University of Salzburg, whose published books deal exclusively with vegetarianism. PETA quotes him as saying, "Our grandchildren will ask us one day: Where were you during the Holocaust of the animals? What did you do against these horrifying crimes? We won't be able to offer the same excuse for the second time,that we didn't know."

PETA also quotes philosopher Theodor Adorno, a German Jew who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, who wrote, "Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals." In December, PETA made headlines after revealing grisly undercover video footage showing apparent violations of animal cruelty inside AgriProcessors, a kosher US slaughterhouse.

The footage showed cows in the slaughterhouse slamming their heads on the floor, staggering and even standing shakily minutes after their throats were cut and their trachea and esophagus ripped out. PETA launched a campaign against the practices, which led to a US Department of Agriculture investigation.

Newkirk revealed in Thursday's "Holocaust on Your Plate" apology statement that during the campaign against AgriProcessors PETA contemplated using the Yiddish song "Dona, Dona", as a soundtrack to accompanying videos of calves transported to slaughter. The song, written in 1940, uses the slaughter of a calf as a metaphor for the
murder of innocent Jews.

However, PETA's president said she rejected the idea for fear it would be "an offensive and inappropriate use of the song".

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4. My Sample Letter to the Jerusalem Post/Please Also Write

Editor, Jerusalem Post

Dear Editor:

As president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America and author of the book “Judaism and Vegetarianism,” I was very pleased to read about PETA’s apology for offending Jews and others with their “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign (“PETA apologizes for using Holocaust,” May 5, 2005 issue) While we still have disagreements in philosophy and tactics with PETA, I believe that it is now essential to emphasize common ground in working to end the current mistreatment of animals on factory farms and other places, the current epidemic of diseases that have been strongly linked to animal-based diets, and the current widespread environmental degradation and waste of resources caused by modern intensive animal-based agriculture.

I believe that it is essential that the Jewish community address the many ways that animal-based diets and agriculture threaten human health and environmental sustainability, mistreat billions of farmed animals, and violate basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, preserve the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people, and pursue a more peaceful, less violent world.

A shift toward vegetarianism would improve the health of Jews, shift our imperiled planet to a more sustainable path, and demonstrate the relevance of Judaism to some of the most critical issues of our time, helping to revitalize our ancient faith.

Very truly yours,

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5. JTA Item on PETA’s Apology

An animal-rights group apologized for an ad campaign comparing animals to Holocaust victims.

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, sent a letter this week in which she apologized for the pain caused by the campaign. “We hope those we upset will find it in their hearts to work toward the goal of a kinder world, regardless of species,” she wrote. The 2003 “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign said that just as the Nazis forced Jews to live in cramped, filthy conditions, tore children from parents and murdered people in “assembly-line fashion,” factory farms cram animals into tiny, waste-filled spaces, treating cows, chicken and lambs as meat-, egg- and milk-producing machines.

[Please look for articles on PETA’s apology in your local Jewish weeklies, and please consider sending aletter to the editor, possibly using material in this special JVNA newsletter. Thanks.]

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