Hillary Clinton's Fight For Gefilte Fish

Sep 2, 2015
Originally published on September 8, 2015 7:26 pm

Of the more than 7,000 pages of Hillary Clinton's emails released by the State Department this week, one was (literally) fishy:

Gefilte fish is a Jewish dish (some would say delicacy) made of chopped fish. The night of the email release, reaction and theories on the story behind that email came in quickly:

In reality, the email was sent during a 2010 U.S.-Israeli trade dispute. Israel had imposed a large tariff on imported carp (often used in the dish). That tariff was particularly harming one American fishery that exported a lot of carp to Israel.

Schafer Fisheries in Thomson, Ill., was the leading provider of Asian carp, which are caught in the Mississippi River, to Israel. But because of the tariff, the company had about 400,000 pounds of frozen carp held up, owner Mike Schafer told NPR's All Things Considered back in 2010. The Israeli factory he worked with couldn't "afford the tariff on that product and still be able to sell it to their different stores and outlets," he said.

The fish crisis happened ahead of Passover, when gefilte fish is often served.

Hillary Clinton got involved, and some of the fish was let back into Israel.

So where are we on gefilte fish? According to Schafer, "Israel is still holding steadfast on their tariff over there, and it's impacting what they do."

His said his company doesn't really deal much with Israel anymore. Instead it has expanded to other countries like the Dominican Republic and China. And as for Schafer's hundreds of thousands of pounds of carp that were held up back then? The inventory "actually ended up going to fertilizer," he said.

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Republicans on Capitol Hill may be looking for the word Benghazi as they comb through the latest trove of thousands of Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department. But we sat up and took notice of this one, which was sent on March 5, 2010 - subject line - gefilte fish. The content of the email sent on Clinton's now-infamous private server was one line; where do we stand on this? This is not some shrewdly encrypted reference to an international flashpoint somewhere. Gefilte fish is, some would argue, a Jewish delicacy of chopped fish, usually carp and sometimes whitefish and pike too. The email from March 2010 was alluding to a U.S.-Israeli trade dispute that we had acknowledged on this program. Israel had increased a tariff that was harming an American fishery.


MIKE SCHAFER: Economically, it's impacted us and the factory over in Israel producing gefilte fish.

SIEGEL: And just understand this, it's the Israeli factory that is preferring to keep the gefilte fish offshore rather than pay that whopping tariff that effectively doubles the cost of it to them.

SCHAFER: They can't afford that tariff on that product and still be able to sell it to their different stores and outlets, you know?

SIEGEL: That's Mike Schafer of Schafer Fisheries in Thompson, Ill., whom I spoke with back in 2010. And he's on the line again. Hi.


SIEGEL: Back then, Israel had slapped a big tariff on imported carp. What's happened since?

SCHAFER: Well, we don't deal a lot with Israel anymore. We're in 16 countries worldwide. Israel is still holding steadfast on their tariff over there, and you know, that's impacting what they do.

SIEGEL: But you told me back in 2010 that, at least in those days, the Passover season, when gefilte fish is very often served at the Passover Seder, that was a big market for you - Israel during Passover.

SCHAFER: It is a huge market, and you know, gefilte fish is a staple of the Jewish people. I mean, they eat it every week.

SIEGEL: How big a chunk of your business was it back then?

SCHAFER: I would say it was over 50 percent of what we did back then.

SIEGEL: Most of the carp you were selling was going to Israel, so if you haven't been able to stay in the Israeli market these past five years, where have you found business?

SCHAFER: Well, in a lot of third-world countries, including the Dominican Republic. They're probably our largest customer for that fish.

SIEGEL: They're not making gefilte fish out of it.

SCHAFER: No, not at all. They make fish steaks out of it. We ship a lot of heads over to China because that is the most desired part of the Asian carp.

SIEGEL: Mr. Schafer, when these emails of Hillary Clinton's came out, were you surprised to see that the secretary of state had taken up your cause?

SCHAFER: Yeah. I thought that was great. I don't recall exactly how I knew that anymore, but I knew that she was going to try to rectify the situation over there. Unfortunately, back then, we had about 400,000 pounds of inventory, as I recall, that actually ended up going to fertilizer.

SIEGEL: How much gefilte fish could that much carp have made?

SCHAFER: There was probably 600 to 700,000 pounds of gefilte fish.

SIEGEL: Gone to fertilizer - wow.


SIEGEL: Well, it's good to talk with you again. And I was reminded of our conversation when this odd email from Secretary Clinton turned up, and it's nice to know that you've recovered so well from the gefilte fish crises of 2010.


SIEGEL: Mike Schafer, thanks for talking with us.

SCHAFER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mike Schafer, president of Schafer Fisheries of Thompson, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.