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Cancel culture comes to Israel

A protest sign calling to boycott Angel Bakeries, at a Supermarket in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, May 5, 2023. (Photo: Flash90)

In our latest attempt to keep up with the Joneses, the Haredi sector of Israel’s population has stolen a page from American Woke culture, where blackmail has become the useful tool for getting rid of whoever offends you.  

Such is the case with Angel Bakery, the largest commercial bakery in Israel, whose products are a staple in almost every Israeli household, especially the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox). So, what is their beef with the successful company? 

Former Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, who now heads the bakery’s board, made the fatal mistake of recently exercising his democratic right to take part in a protest outside of a Haredi rabbi’s home in order to express his opposition to the fact that young Haredim do not serve in the military as all others do. This comes at a time when the new government is being confronted with an IDF draft bill which could lower the draft exemption age for the Haredim. Presently, if a Haredi student leaves a yeshiva (learning institution to study Torah and Talmud) before the age of 26, they would be required to serve in the military. The new law would lower the age to 23. 

Angered by Bar Lev’s actions, United Torah Judaism party's Knesset Member Moshe Gafni brought into question Bar Lev’s respect for the Torah, concluding that he might not be trustworthy enough to safeguard the company’s kashrut (kosher observance) status. From there, a further conclusion was drawn – that, perhaps, no one should buy Angel’s products if there is an uncertainty as to their kosher certification. 

Joined by Gafni’s protests was Labor Ministry Yoav Ben-Tzur of the Shas Party, who also piled on by saying that “Freedom of expression is not the freedom of humiliation, Omer Bar Lev and the group of privileged people who demonstrated outside the house of Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, disgraced the honor of the Torah and there is no forgiveness for that.” 

While it’s true that one of the objections of protesting outside the door of this 100-year-old rabbi, who is greatly revered, to the point of being called G’dolai HaDor (one of the greats of his generation), it didn’t stop massive extreme right-wing protesters from gathering outside of the home of 86-year-old former Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak, who is also a Holocaust survivor, as a result of his stand against the proposed governmental reforms. 

So now, calls for a boycott of Angel Bakery’s products, have come from these two religious political leaders. There is no doubt that such a move would significantly harm the beloved company which has been in business since 1927 and also exports its products to the U.S., UK, France, Belgium and Denmark. 

But this is all too familiar. When someone’s personal politics get in the way of a particular segment of society, calls are immediately heard for the dismissal, better known as cancellation, of that person. Their freedom of expression is neither valid nor able to be voiced. Failure to comply with those offended will only result in having one’s presence hermetically erased from the hallowed halls of the company where they earn their bread and butter.

This is nothing more than modern-day blackmail. Consumers have the ultimate power to strongarm a company if their political or societal position does not conform with what is being demanded. Consequently, Angel Bakery stands to lose a great deal of sales and revenue by those who have the ability to injure it.  

Cancel culture has become a looming threat, over the last few years, but mostly in America where Woke philosophy, often called theology, has become an immovable force. People can be dismissed, at will, once company heads begin to internalize what a massive boycott will do to their bottom line. It is swift and an effective tool in shutting down any opposition, but for those who willingly comply, it also represents an end to their free choice of how they determine their future. Because once a group is able to successfully cancel a person by giving the ultimatum that it’s either him or us, a compliant company ceases to operate independently.  

This is the world in which we live. Violence is not really needed. Just threaten someone’s financial picture, and you’re able to control the actions and positions of that individual or entity.

It worked successfully with the Disney Company, which recently underwent massive changes, in order to satisfy the Woke. Everything from Minnie Mouse’s dress being changed to a pantsuit to the renaming of rides and films, has been revamped in order to accommodate those who felt triggered by past images and titles. 

It also worked for Dr. Seuss Enterprises when the company decided to put an end to the publishing of six particular books which some claimed were suddenly racist.

But the Woke, as well as the Haredim, might be well-served to understand that sometimes Woke politics can work the other way, too.  

In the 2020 case of a threatened boycott of Goya food products, due to the CEO’s praise of then-U.S. President Donald Trump, the company faced the threat of a massive boycott, with well-known Woke celebrities and politicians taking to Twitter to announce their refusal to purchase any more of Goya’s products. How did that work out? When ordinary, patriotic un-woke Americans heard that praise for their president was about to result in an attempt to bankrupt a company, they began to buy Goya’s products in droves. Consequently, sales actually rose, from the threat of a boycott, with no sign of an impending company demise. 

It turns out that many people, who are consumers of goods and products, don’t take kindly to being told what to think and how to respond when a political stand is taken by the head of a company. Oddly enough, most people are more interested in the product itself. If it’s food, is it tasty? If it’s a product, does it work well? 

So, in the case of Angel Bakery, the company should not be too quick to cave in to the demands of those who want to see the chairman of the board sacrificed on the altar of voicing the wrong politics. There are plenty of us who will still buy their products, which are both tasty and reasonably priced. Because, in the end, it’s more important that people are allowed to have the freedom to take whatever position they want and express it without fear of being cancelled. Cancel culture is just another form of cutting off someone’s economic oxygen so that they become unemployable and suffer the slow death of poverty.  

It is a despicable and loathsome form of bullying, and if anything is worth canceling, it’s that!   

ALL ISRAEL NEWS is committed to fair and balanced coverage and analysis, and honored to publish a wide-range of opinions. That said, views expressed by guest columnists may not necessarily reflect the views of our staff.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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