May 10, 2023|י"ט אייר ה' אלפים תשפ"ג Bud Light, Hobby Lobby, Angel Bakery and You: Representing the BrandPrint Article
If you are boycotting a product, company or service because you are angry, frustrated, disappointed, or committed to your principles, you are far from alone. According to a recent survey, a quarter of Americans are boycotting a product or company they had spent money on in the past. Some are taking a political position, others a stance on social issues, and the result is more and more people are expressing themselves through their wallets.
Last month, Bud Light learned this directly. They launched a sponsorship partnership with actor and TikTok influencer Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender activist, which provoked strong backlash against Anheuser-Busch, the parent company of Budweiser and maker of Bud Light. Bud Light sales plummeted with calls for boycotts until the company ultimately pulled the campaign and put their Vice President of Marketing on leave of absence.
Founded in 1970, Hobby Lobby is the largest privately owned arts-and-crafts retailer in the world, with over 43,000 employees operating in 48 states. It was started by David and Barbara Green, devout Evangelicals who list as the first of the company’s core values: “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”
Hobby Lobby has been at the center of several national controversies as a result of taking strong positions on (and in some cases litigating) issues from contraceptives, LGBT, publicly endorsing Trump, and taking out an ad calling for a Christian-run government. In recent years, Hobby Lobby has confronted countless calls for boycotts.
The boycott movement has made its way to Israel. Among my earliest memories of visiting Israel is eating a delicious rugelach from Angel’s Bakery. The iconic bakery, Israel’s largest, produces 275,000 loaves of bread and 275,000 rolls daily and controls 30 percent of Israel’s bread market. Founded in 1927 in Mandatory Palestine by Salomon Angel, Angel’s Bakery today exports to the United States, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and Denmark.
Last week, outside supermarkets in major cities in Israel, boxes of Angel’s products remained untouched, and a growing number of high-volume customers, particularly large Yeshivas, were cancelling orders. A huge order for Meron for about 50 million NIS was reportedly canceled.
What happened? Was an Angel’s product found to be contaminated? Was there a Kashrus violation? Were workers being underpaid or mistreated? The controversy had nothing to do with ingredients, kashrus, or employee conduct. The source of the boycott that could cost the company potentially hundreds of millions of shekel was a social media post by the company’s chairman of the board, Omer Bar-Lev.
Bar-Lev, a longtime Labor Party politician and former Minister of Public Security, participated in a protest outside the Bnei Brak home of Rav Gershon Edelstein, considered by the Chareidi community to be the Gadol HaDor. Bar-Lev posted a picture of himself with the "Brothers in Arms" protest group on Twitter, writing, "Beyond and in addition to the importance of military service to everyone, the law of "No equality in the burden" [i.e., the Draft Law] that the coalition intends to enact is the bribe of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Finance Minister Yariv] Levin to the Haredi parties so that they will vote in favor of the coup d'état."
Charedi politicians immediately expressed outrage, with United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni tweeting, "Omer Bar-Lev and Angel’s have no respect for the Torah! You should seriously consider whether you can trust their kashrut. Bar-Lev does not understand what the Torah is and what is great in the Torah and everyone has to calculate whether it is possible to buy food products from them. I despise him!"
Labor Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas) attacked Bar-Lev as well, saying "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."
The call for boycotting Angel’s was swift and the response and cooperation came quickly, sending a loud message not only to Bar-Lev, but also the board of directors and management of Angel’s.
Some have pushed back expressing support for Angel’s and Bar-Lev. Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman posted two pictures of himself purchasing challah in Angel’s, writing: “On the way home, I stopped to buy challos for Shabbat in Angel’s Bakery. As far as I know, the State of Israel is still defined as a democracy and people are allowed to express their opinions. We won’t allow Charedi askanim to harm the livelihood of Israeli citizens.”
This story has not yet concluded, and it remains unclear if Bar-Lev will walk back his post or even resign, or if he will double down and hope that the Bakery will weather the storm.
Whatever your personal opinion on judicial reform, the proposed draft law and any of the other issues being highly contested in Israel, this episode raises what I think is a fascinating question.
When it comes to Bud Light and Hobby Lobby, I understand why people wouldn’t want to patronize or support companies that formally take positions or support policies they strongly disagree with. The episode of Angel’s Bakery, however, seems different. The company didn’t advocate a position, didn’t partner with an activist, and didn’t launch a provocative or controversial marketing campaign. The company did not express any position about the Draft Law or judicial reform. A private individual, not acting as a representative of the company, expressed his opinion, whether you agree with it or not.
Should we boycott every business or hold every company accountable for the personal opinions of its board members? Do we look into the campaign contributions, analyze social media posts, and track every company executive before deciding if we should purchase from that brand? What about the other board members, management, or high-level employees, how far in the company should we go?
While those questions may seem extreme, it seems Bar-Lev made waves specifically because he is the chairman of Angel’s, the current face of the company. When he took on that role, he accepted that he would be synonymous with the brand and that his choices, actions, social media posts, and statements, implicit and explicit, would be associated with the company he chairs. Being the face of a company or brand means people will feel either more aligned or more alienated to the company based on the impression you leave. And fair or unfair, that must be considered before every post, position, or participation.
What’s true for Bar-Lev is true for each and every one of us. We may not have signed up for it but being Jewish means you are the face of our brand, you are synonymous with the Jewish people and with our values, our Torah, and most of all our Creator. When people have positive experiences with you and impressions of you, they will think more highly about the Jewish people and Hashem. If they have a negative interaction or experience with you, they won’t only harbor impressions or feelings about you, but by association they will think more critically about our whole people.
We read just last week, v’lo sechalelu es shem kodshi v’nikdashti besoch b’nei Yisroel, do not desecrate Hashem’s Holy Name, instead, sanctify His name among the Jewish people. Rav Pam noted that these words appear adjacent to the expression Ushemartem mitzvosai v’asisem osam, observe My laws and perform them because the greatest responsibility to “represent” the brand, the people who will most be associated with the total Jewish people and our Torah, are the observant community. Rabbeinu Bechayei notes that there is no middle ground, no neutral. There are only two alternatives provided. With every speech, action and behavior, we are either helping the brand or hurting it, advancing our cause or setting it back, bringing people closer to Hashem and His Torah or causing them to feel further away.
Every time we grab the keyboard to post or proverbial microphone to demonstrate, we need to know, we are the chairman, one wrong move and others could boycott what we hold most dear.