Via Twitter, Ulukaya celebrates new paid family leave policy with Chobani employees
Via Twitter, Ulukaya celebrates new paid family leave policy with Chobani employees

Bauerle and Bellavia Defame Chobani Owner, Refugees

by / Nov. 3, 2016 5am EST

Earlier this week, during the newly re-constituted “Bauerle and Bellavia” afternoon drive-time show, the hosts accused the owner of Chobani yogurt (and, naturally, by extension, Senator Charles Schumer), of aiding terrorism or something equally outrageous, false, and stupid. 

The founder of Chobani yogurt, which owns a plant in upstate New York, Hamdi Ulukaya, is an ethnically Kurdish immigrant from Turkey. The Kurds are our allies right now in the war against ISIS/ISIL, maintain one of the most stable regions of Iraq, and Turkey is our NATO ally. Ulukaya has gone out of his way to hire refugees from “Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, and other countries” to work in his Idaho and New York factories. He also founded Tent, a charitable foundation to assist refugees. It is a point of pride for him,

“The minute a refugee has a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee,” Mr. Ulukaya said in a talk he gave this year.

In January 2016, Mr. Ulukaya spoke at the Davos World Economic Forum and called on other businesses to follow his lead and help refugees. As a result, he has become a target of death threats and boycotts from the white nationalist right. From the New York Times’ article

But while an alliance of well-known companies was now working together on the issue, the online critics zeroed in on Chobani. Shortly after Mr. Ulukaya spoke in Davos, the far-right website WND published a story originally titled “American Yogurt Tycoon Vows to Choke U.S. With Muslims.”

Then this summer, Breitbart, the conservative news website whose former executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, is now running the Trump campaign, began publishing a series of misleading articles about Chobani.

One drew a connection between Chobani’s hiring of refugees and a spike in tuberculosis cases in Idaho. Another linked Chobani to a “Twin Falls Crisis Imposed by Clinton-Era Pro-Refugee Advocates.” A third conflated Chobani’s hiring practices with a sexual assault case in Twin Falls involving minors.

In other words, a blood libel for the digital age. He believes something with which the alt-right white nationalists disagree, so they falsify something to inflame others. 

The original article from WND accused Chobani of vowing to “choke” the country with Muslims. The headline has since been changed, likely because Mr. Ulukaya never said any such thing. But that didn’t stop our local right-wing radio station to perpetuate and spread this libel. 

From the radio program: 

Bauerle: What do you make of Chuck Schumer wanting to bring Chobani Yogurt to central New York when the guy who runs the company, “says he wants to choke America with Muslims”. Now there is no way, shape. or form anybody can accuse me of being an Islamophobe. Not in the least; but if you talk about choking — I mean, the word choking - think about what it means this is not somebody who loves America, this is somebody who is Islam first, and wherever we happen to be is where I’m gonna hire everybody who’s a Muslim.

Bellavia: Well, I mean, the amount of … 11,000 third world refugees have made their way to Idaho since September 11, 2001, and 998 of those are from countries like the Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria — and this guy’s employing, you know, close to 62% of the of the Arabs and and Middle Easterners that are finding their way through  - into Idaho.  So, listen, I mean, I don’t know if I started hiring only Christian, white, you know, Catholics, I think there’d be a problem with that — and there should be a problem with that.

Bauerle: And there should be, yeah.  I mean, I’m sorry, whatever happened — you know it’s really funny because the left in this country they’re all about, y’know, the rainbow flag, and co-exist with the various religious symbols. And I’m sorry but where is this Chobani Yogurt guy, where is his appreciation of diversity. See, diversity is a one way street with these people.

Bellavia: I just put in Mr. Hamdi Ulukaya, the CEO Turkish born billionaire of Chobani and guess what. He shows up on WikiLeaks.

Bauerle: Oh, really?!

Bellavia: And he is connected to the Clinton Global Initiative. 

Let’s unpack this a bit. Forget the fascinating math, whereby 998 is 62% of 11,000, and let’s forget the faux diversity plea. According to an interview Ulukaya gave to the Financial Times, about 30% — less than a third — of his employees are refugees. The owner of Chobani never said he wanted to “choke” anyone with anything. Indeed, he never even said he wants to “flood” the US with Muslims or anything else of the sort. This is a lie. It is false. It is a fake, phony, white nationalist, anti-immigrant fraud.

As for that Idaho plant

The $450 million, 1 million square-foot plant is the company’s second. It will employ 300 people, and Mr. Ulukaya said for every 10 jobs it creates directly, it is expected to create roughly 66 additional jobs in ancillary businesses.

I plugged Ulukaya into WikiLeaks, too. I get several hits. Most of them are the duplicates same thing, none of which has anything to do with the Clintons. It’s a leaked Stratfor email that cut & pasted an online article, which includes this

Enormous growth persuaded the popular yogurt-maker Chobani to open a plant out West. It plans to break ground in December on a $100 million manufacturing facility in Twin Falls, Idaho and hire 400 workers in 2012. The company, which opened in 2007 with five employees, now has about 1,000 workers at its plant in upstate New York. Sales are expected to reach $700 million this year, up from $300 million in 2010. “We can’t wait for the economy to be right to invest,” says company founder Hamdi Ulukaya.

Another is an April 2016 statement from the Clinton campaign, after Ulukaya offered his employees an ownership stake — a huge win for those employees, and for central new York, 

When Hamdi Ulukaya founded Chobani in upstate New York more than a decade ago, he knew that to build a strong company, he needed a strong workforce. That’s why from the beginning, he paid his employees salaries above minimum wage and offered health and retirement benefits, and hired hundreds of refugees who came to America, as he did, looking for a brighter future. And he got results, building a happy, loyal, productive workforce—along with a company worth billions. Today, he took things one step further, giving his employees a stake in the ongoing growth and prosperity of the company. These are New York values at their best—and it’s the way business should work, with both executives and employees able to enjoy the rewards of their hard work and dedication. We need to encourage more companies to see their workers as assets to be invested in, not costs to be cut. That’s why I’ve proposed a new tax credit to encourage more companies to share profits with the employees who make those profits possible in the first place.

Lastly, we see Bellavia’s smoking gun, from the Clinton Foundation’s press office in February 2016.  What is Ulukaya’s “connection to the Clinton Global Initiative”? He gave a speech once

CGI Winter Meeting Participant Hamdi Ulukaya on Business’ Role in Tackling the Refugee Crisis

Last week, President Clinton announced the 2016 Annual Meeting theme “Partnering for Global Prosperity” at the CGI Winter Meeting. After the one-on-one conversation with President Clinton, Mic interviewed Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani and Founder of Tent Foundation, was interviewed by Mic.

Hamdi discussed how the businesses community can work together to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis. “Ulukaya spoke after appearing alongside former President Bill Clinton on Thursday afternoon at the annual Clinton Global Initiative Winter Meeting for a discussion on his work on the refugee crisis. …‘I’ve seen it with my own eyes and in my own factories,’ Ulukaya told Mic. ‘When refugees move in a magnitude like this, something happens that they become more aware, more dedicated and harder working. If they’re accepted into the community, they’ll do whatever [they can] to help the community.’

Basically, he gave the same speech he gave at Davos in January. 

I confronted Bellavia on Twitter about it Wednesday, and in response was called a “globalist” and “Marxist” because I disagreed with Bellavia’s plan which would ensure that every citizen has a job before any immigrant has a right to one; essentially, an unconstitutional two-tiered system that punishes immigrants for the crime of not being born here. Bellavia said they’d correct the record “if” they were wrong about “choked”, but I have no idea whether they did so. But he doubled down on math that put 11,000 “Third World” or Middle Eastern refugees in the US since 9/11 (an odd date to pick), and that 998 of “those” are in Idaho, and that Chobani allegedly employs 62% of that population. However, the Chobani plant in Idaho employs 300 people — if it employed 62% of 1,000 people, that would be double the number of people who work in the plant. It’s all nonsense. Of Chobani’s entire payroll in Idaho and New York, about 30% — less than a third — are refugees. And each one of those refugee employees has a purpose in life, a paycheck to spend locally, and embodies the American Dream. That Dream is not on hold for refugees, nor should it be. 

One clever Tweeter quipped, “You criticize refugees for mooching AND for working. Can’t have both. These guys add to the US and its economy.” 

By the way, one common alt-right trope is to condemn refugees coming to the US as sleeper terrorists. Where are the women?! Where are the kids?! goes the concern-trolling. Well, Syria’s neighbors in the Middle East have taken in 2.1 million refugees; 50.5% of them are women, and 49.7% are men. Farther afield, Europe saw 800,000 Syrian refugees arrive in 2015;  62% men, 22% children, and 16% are women. But what about the US, which a refugee can only reach with a plane ticket and a visa, which is notoriously difficult to obtain? 50% are children, 2.5% are over the age of 60, only 2% are single males of combat age, and there is a 50/50 Male/Female split.

Never underestimate the confluence of lies, fear, hatred, and stupidity that make up right-wing propaganda — you take WND and Breitbart at face value as credible sources at your peril. But the closing argument of the Times’ story is instructive here, 

“[Ulukaya is] the xenophobe’s nightmare,” Mr. Roth said. “Here’s an immigrant who isn’t competing for jobs, but is creating jobs big time. It runs completely counter to the far-right narrative.”

Chobani and its owner are doing God’s work, providing jobs — and everything that goes along with that — financial stability, rootedness in our society and economy — to refugees who fled violence, bloodshed, and oppression with nothing. To degrade and defame that is to degrade and defame America itself.