A couple of weeks ago in the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, former cabinet minister Omer Bar-Lev took part in a protest against the current government’s judicial reforms and continuation of the mass exemptions from military service enjoyed by many in the ultra-Orthodox community.
Spurred by a number of prominent politicians, reports quickly spread throughout the Haredi Twitterverse and news outlets that Bar-Lev had protested outside the home of Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, considered by many to be one of today’s preeminent Torah scholars.
The outrage quickly turned on the company Omer Bar-Lev chairs: Angel Bakery.
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni even tweeted, among other things, that Angel’s kashrut should be questioned. A mass boycott of Angel Bakery was called, as leaders in the ultra-Orthodox community demanded that Bar-Lev and Angel Bakery apologize for offending the honor of a great Torah scholar.
Bar-Lev and Angel Bakery refused to comment. About 10 days into the boycott, reports came out in the mainstream secular Israeli media celebrating Bar-Lev’s and Angel Bakery’s victory over the boycott: according to sources, not only had the boycott not negatively impacted Angel, but their profits had actually increased since the boycott went into effect.
An insightful piece published in Ynet, Israel’s most popular news site, pointed to a number of factors that led to this victory by Angel Bakery, a company with a huge market share in the Haredi sector. The article mentioned how Angel Bakery donates tens of thousands of loaves each month, distributed for free by the Jerusalem bakery on Fridays in ultra-Orthodox cities – donations that stopped once the boycott went into effect.
According to the report, the majority of Angel Bakery bread purchased by the ultra-Orthodox community is comprised of products that are price-controlled by the government and consequently not particularly lucrative for Angel Bakery (or any other bakery that would fill in for them as a result of the boycott).
The doughy base of Israeli bakeries
Most Israeli bakeries’ bread and butter, so to speak, comes from the non-price-controlled baked goods they sell. Also, Angel Bakery is perhaps in an even better financial state than many of its competitors because of the recent sale of the massive plot of land on which its Jerusalem bakery used to stand – for NIS 430 million (nearly $120 m.).
Ultra-Orthodox news outlets decried the Ynet article and others as a secular celebration, questioning the timing of the reports about Angel Bakery’s profits and the reliability of the figures on which they’re based.
And yet the story almost immediately got even stranger when a leading ultra-Orthodox radio personality, with the help of someone impersonating current Likud Justice Minister Yariv Levin, got Omer Bar-Lev himself on the line and asked him about the controversial protest that led to the boycott.
“I didn’t stand across from the yeshiva head’s house. I didn’t say anything disparaging about the rabbi. It was an event in Bnei Brak, I didn’t say a word, not one of the other speakers said anything against the rabbi,” he said.
“The fact that a few tweeters and unfortunately, Knesset members spoke as if it happened, it simply did not happen. The boycott came as a result of fake news published by some Tweeters with an interest.”
Bar-Lev’s un-Orthodox radio appearance just might be the way out of this strange Israeli take on cancel culture. A saga which – especially if Bar-Lev can be taken at his word – doesn’t seem to be grounded in factual events and does seem to overly serve anyone’s interests, except, perhaps, a handful of politicians.
Unfortunately, the bizarre Angel Bakery bread boycott doesn’t seem to be the only context, these days, in which that’s the case.
The author is a Jerusalem-based writer and publicist, whose work focuses primarily on Jewish, Israeli and Middle Eastern history and culture. @ZackRothbart