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Special Interview Chavez: ‘Don’t Eat the Grapes’

Cesar Chavez today urged the American Jewish community to support the United Farm Workers’ boycott of California table grapes.

"Just don’t eat the grapes, that’s all you can do," the 58-year-old president of the UFW said during an interview at the offices of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here.

He noted the Jewish community’s strong support for the grape boycotts in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and recalled that during the last boycott, an Orthodox rabbi in New York declared that "scab grapes" are non-kosher.

SUPPORT BY TWO JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS

Two Jewish organizations have come out in full support of the UFW table grape boycott, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the association of American Reform rabbis, and the Jewish Labor Committee, a fraternal organization.

The Jewish Labor Committee’s executive director, Martin Lapan, said in a statement that the Committee "strongly urges" the Jewish community to refrain from purchasing grapes until the union achieves a fair settlement of its grievances.

Noting its past support for the UFW, the Committee accused the grape growers of "renewed exploitation," and said: "We urge the Jewish community to once again protest farm workers exploitation by boycotting non-union grapes."

The CCAR, at its 96th annual convention in Minneapolis last June, endorsed a resolution calling for full support for the grapes boycott, urging its members and congregations "to support the boycott until the workers are accorded all rights and benefits to which they are entitled."

The CCAR, as did the Jewish Labor Committee, sharply criticized Governor George Deukmejian of California, accusing him of "undermining" the Agricultural Labor Relations (ALRB), a state enforcement agency. The UFW has charged the governor with the "systematic purge" of the Board.

The UFW boycott of table grapes was declared last year in response to what the UFW charged was Deukmejian’s lack of enforcement of the 1975 state farm labor law. Chavez charged that the governor’s appointees to the ALRB have dismissed hundreds of farm worker charges without investigating them and "in violation of the internal procedure for dealing with cases."

SOME OF THE OUTSTANDING ISSUES

Some of the outstanding issues between the growers and the UFW include a demand by the workers for a fair marketing agreement, for fair and free elections, that the growers bargain in good faith and that there be a ban by the growers on five of the some 27 pesticides used in the grape fields, Chavez said. These five, the UFW contends, are harmful to the workers.

Rabbi Joseph Glazer, executive vice president of the CCAR, said the rabbinic group is pushing for rabbis in California to pressure the governor to reconsider his handling of the farm workers and "we’re confident we’re going to get the support-enormous support — for the boycott."

Glazer, in a JTA interview, said the "Jewish ethic on labor is clearly stated in the Bible." He said the "whole concept of tzedaka makes us particularly sensitive to the suffering and degregation these people have undergone through the years."

CITES ROLE OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY

According to Glazer, the Jewish community should provide a platform for farm workers to address congregants on the urgency of the current boycott. But also, he said, American Jews should not buy table grapes until "they are kosher … Until the people who stoop and squat and go through all kinds of hell out there in the fields are treated right, those grapes are treif."

Glazer recalled that it was Orthodox Rabbi Haskell Lookstein of New York who issued a statement during the last grape boycott in the 1970’s in which he said that as far as he was concerned, grapes picked under boycott circumstances "are non-kosher."

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