WASHINGTON — Under a barrage of criticism, crafting superstore giant Hobby Lobby caved over what a political blogger alleged is anti-Semitism in its merchandising policies. Or, rather, it partially caved.
It posted an apology late Wednesday evening for an employee’s alleged anti-Semitic comment, but pledged only to evaluate the merchandising practices at the heart of the storm.
“Hobby Lobby apologizes for any possible employee comments that may have offended anyone, especially our Jewish customers and friends. Comments like these do not reflect the feelings of the Green family or Hobby Lobby. We are investigating this matter and do not tolerate discrimination at our company or our stores,” the company posted on its Facebook fan page.
“Hobby Lobby is currently working with our buyers over our merchandise selection,” the post continued. “Our customers have brought this to our attention, and we are currently evaluating our holiday items and what we will carry in the future.”
The Hobby Lobby apology was the latest — but likely not the last — chapter in the dispute that erupted after a customer at a New Jersey branch of the store last week, asking about the curious absence of Jewish Hanukkah decorations for sale, was allegedly told that “we don’t cater to you people.”
The incident raised widespread speculation about the mindset and views of the Green family, Hobby Lobby’s evangelical Christian owners. And the Facebook apology, which makes no commitment to changing company policy on the items it stocks, is unlikely to quash concerns.
The Oklahoma City-based corporation, which boasts over 500 stores throughout the United States stocking craft supplies and other bric-a-brac, was accused of anti-Semitism by political blogger Ken Berwitz, who posted that neighbors were reporting that a New Jersey branch of Hobby Lobby didn’t have any Hanukkah or Jewish-themed merchandise for sale. Berwitz said that the chain’s corporate offices told him that they would not stock Jewish-themed merchandise “because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he’s a Christian and those are his values.”
David Green, Hobby Lobby’s founder, is a devout evangelical Christian. All of Green’s siblings became religious leaders. And he has given numerous interviews about running Hobby Lobby in accordance with his Christian ethos.
He pays employees a ‘”living wage” that is significantly above minimum wage, closes shop early so that employees can spend time with their families, and keeps his stores shut on Sunday to mark the Sabbath. Christian art supplies can be found in all of the over-500 branches.
Last year, Hobby Lobby sued the Department of Health and Human Services for violating his religious freedom by forcing him to provide emergency contraceptives in the framework of the Affordable Care Act. The case, which garnered extensive press coverage and which he won on the district level, has now been taken up by the Supreme Court.
Green wrote a public letter in defense of his stance, explaining that “we’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles. I’ve always said that the first two goals of our business are (1) to run our business in harmony with God’s laws, and (2) to focus on people more than money.”
He is not the only member of the family engaged in activism. In 2009, his son Mart Green produced and funded “Little Town of Bethlehem”, a film that claims to analyze the situation in the West Bank city revered by Christians as the place of Jesus’s birth.
The Jabotinsky Institute’s Hatewatch website opens a profile of Mart Green and the movie by stating, “Mart Green is not a familiar name among those who propagate a religious hatred of Jews and Israel.”
The film, which won critical acclaim at the Palestine Film Festival in Chicago, draws parallels between the violent Palestinian intifada uprisings against Israel — the second of which saw an onslaught of suicide bombings in which hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed — and the peaceful resistance movements of Dr. Martin Luther King. The film was advised by the Holy Land Trust, an organization that supports boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel in the framework of the BDS movement and academic boycotts of the country.
The watchdog group NGO Monitor described the film as combining “Holy Land Trust’s anti-Israel activism with a theological backdrop.”
Mart’s brother, Steve, is active in a different sphere: He is leading up a drive to build a museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. After beginning to collect Bibles in 2009, he claims a collection of over 40,000 different pieces. Earlier this month, he also made headlines – for unveiling what is believed to be the world’s oldest Jewish prayer book.
Steve Green has not disclosed where or how he procured the work, which has been dated to the ninth century, but noted that extensive research on the book will be completed and published in 2014 or 2015. Green said that Hebrew University’s Emanuel Tov will edit the findings.
All such activities are based, according to family members, on a core of evangelical faith and activism. David Green claims to have bankrolled the printing of some 1.3 billion copies of gospel-related texts for worldwide distribution, with a focus on Africa and China. If, as some critics claim, the Greens are actively invested in converting Jews, they also have some 1 billion other would-be converts.
The Anti-Defamation League was a co-signer of an an opinion proffered to the court – alongside a number of other Jewish organizations — that supported the Department of Health and Human Services’ position denying Green’s claim against the Affordable Care Act.
Nevertheless, there is no documented direct response by Green – or any of his family members – to the ADL’s claims. The ADL itself did not have an initial response to questions from The Times of Israel regarding Green’s alleged anti-Semitism.