Spewing hatred: Grandson of founder of Israel’s largest bakery chain incites against ultra-Orthodox, slams boycott

Dispute began with the Angel Bakery chairman’s protest outside leading haredi rabbi’s home, triggering boycott of company’s products followed by vicious social media attack on the ultra-Orthodox.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israel’s largest bakery is engaged in a public spat with the ultra-Orthodox community, one of its most important consumer segments, due to political differences and incendiary comments from the business founder’s grandson.

Angel Bakery, which is headquartered in Jerusalem but provides baked goods to restaurants, supermarkets, and stores throughout the country, sells price-controlled and government-subsidized products that are a staple in millions of homes in Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up a significant portion of the company’s consumers, and thousands from the community also work at its factories and distribution centers. But now, leading rabbis and leaders have called for the community to boycott the company’s products.

A widescale boycott by the ultra-Orthodox community could lead to Angel Bakery losing millions of shekels in revenue.

Mixing business with politics

The dispute began shortly after Angel Bakery named former Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, who served as a lawmaker from the left-wing Labor party, as head of its Board of Directors.

Last week, Bar-Lev participated in a protest outside of the home of the 100-year-old Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, spiritual leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox movement in Israel and the Degel HaTorah political party.

Demonstrators gathered on the street outside Edelstein’s home in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Bnei Brak, chanting and holding signs expressing their opposition to blanket exemptions from military service granted to yeshiva students.

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Bar-Lev posted a selfie at the event, referring to potential legislation to ease the military exemption process for yeshiva students. The former lawmaker also referred to reforms to the judicial system as a “coup,” although they were proposed by democratically elected politicians.

“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,” he wrote.

The tactic of protesting outside of politicians’ homes has become commonplace in recent months, as left-wing demonstrators have descended upon the residences of supporters of judicial reform. Some have even trapped politicians inside and prevented them from leaving.

But the protest outside Edelstein’s home, due to his status as a revered spiritual leader in the community, appears to have been a step too far.

‘Hypocrites, parasites’

In response to Bar-Lev’s political actions, several leading rabbis, including the son of former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, encouraged members of the community to avoid buying Angel’s products.

Right-wing politicians, including Shas Chair Aryeh Deri and United Torah Judaism head Moshe Gafni, also expressed support for a boycott.

“It cannot be that the chair of Angel’s Board of Directors goes to protest at the home of one of the greatest [rabbis] of this generation. Bar-Lev’s remarks are very problematic, hostile, deeply hateful, and ignorant of this world,” MK Limor Son Har-Melech (Religious Zionism) told Kan News.

“The boycott will end when Omer Bar-Lev faces judgment. The boycott needs to continue until he is fired, she said.

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The calls for a boycott triggered anger among left-wingers and supporters of Bar-Lev.

“There is no limit to the chutzpah on the part of the ultra-Orthodox public in Israel,” wrote Yoel Spiegel, the grandson of the bakery’s founder, in a now-deleted Facebook post.

“They eat for free … evade army service, have dark opinions and, above all, are hypocrites!” He went on to praise Bar-Lev for his military service, stressing that he has the “right to protest” however he sees fit, “within the framework of the law.”

Ironically, Spiegel did not acknowledge that the same right to protest is evident in a consumer boycott of Angel’s products.

“The days of free eating are over,” he continued in the post. “Judgment Day is coming and no boycott or calls for a boycott will stop us from correcting the injustice of years and putting an end to evasion and parasitism.”

‘This is not revenge’

Spiegel’s comments sparked another wave of backlash within the ultra-Orthodox community, triggering additional calls for yeshivas and grocery stores owned by community members to avoid stocking Angel Bakery products.

“Rabbi Edelstein is one of the spiritual giants of the people of Israel. One of the greatest righteous men of our generation. Hurting him is hurting me. It is an insult to all who love God. I’m not able to eat one bun from Angel after all of this,” said Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who is widely considered one of the most prominent Religious Zionist rabbis today.

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“This is not revenge. This is a public campaign regarding the character of the State of Israel. Those who care about the State of Israel will not buy Angel products until they mend their ways,” he continued.

“There are enough other bakeries that know how to bake delicious challah for Shabbat. And if you don’t find it, it’s better to eat rye bread and not eat [Angel’s] challah.”

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar (Likud) took to his Twitter account to call for reconciliation between the community and the bakery.

“Demonstrations, boycotts, hatred between brothers and incitement. (And do yourself a favor, don’t try to explain to me why this is justified). Is this how we want to be seen? We no longer remember where we were as a people ? Have we already forgotten what this nation went through until we built this amazing country?” he wrote.

“If we don’t wake up and change direction, we will all regret it. All of us, without exception. We are brothers.”

A senior executive in the bread industry told Israel Hayom that the boycott could have serious financial consequences for Angel Bakery.

“Angel sells a lot of bread in the ultra-Orthodox sector….If it were to be a massive boycott, I estimate that it could affect 10 to 15 percent of the total volume of sales, which is a lot,” they said.

“The impact is expected to be felt mainly in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.”