On February 24, Israel’s Knesset marked ‘Animal Rights Day’, with vegetarian and vegan dishes served in the Knesset members’ cafeteria, and a special plenary session devoted to the topic.
It may surprise many to know that Israel is actually a world leader in animal rights law and this important issue continues to be championed by Israeli politicians on all sides of politics.
Israel implemented the Animal Welfare Law 20 years ago, and last January passed a revolutionary prohibition against importing animal-tested cosmetics, toiletries and detergents. This follows a 2007 ban on domestic animal testing in the Israeli cosmetics industry. Following the EU model, the new Israeli law makes exceptions for certain items considered to be medical products and does not apply to products tested before 2010. Israel has also banned the production of Foie Gras (force feeding geese), and is on track to be the first country in the world to ban the sale of Foie Gras.
In addition, the Knesset is currently debating legislating against recreational hunting and the sale of fur clothing. US celebrity Pamela Anderson, an advocate for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), recently sent a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him to support the legislation to ban fur clothing, which has been endorsed by around 40 Israeli lawmakers.
Anderson may find a sympathetic ear in Netanyahu as he has publicly expressed his concern for animal rights. His views were revealed during a heated discussion in a Cabinet meeting last October when Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz asked to transfer the authority to enforce animal rights laws to his ministry, rather than the Agricultural Ministry. Netanyahu agreed to consider the move, and in November ordered a panel to examine making the Environmental Protection Ministry responsible for the enforcement of animal protection. The dialogue that took place at the Cabinet meeting is particularly insightful:
“Peretz: ‘There is currently a conflict of interests. Leaving it under the authority of the Agriculture Ministry creates a conflict of interests – as the entity responsible for the economic framework for raising animals is also responsible for their conditions and treatment.’
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni: ‘That’s a great idea.’
Shamir: ‘It makes no sense.’
Livni: ‘You deal with animals that don’t have any connection to agriculture.’
Shamir: ‘You know what? Take your dogs and cats if you want.’
Netanyahu: ‘I read the book ‘A Brief History of Humankind’ by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari and understood that animals are more conscious than we thought, which is bothering me and making me think twice.’
Livni: ‘Prime Minister, hearing you say this is like finding an oasis in the desert.’
Shamir: ‘That book has an agenda.’
Livni: ‘It’s not a book with an agenda on this specific topic.’
Shamir: ‘I’ll give you a book with a converse agenda.’
Livni: ‘I’ll give you Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, which strengthens this insight.’
Netanyahu (turning to cabinet secretary): ‘Check if there is a need to change the existing order. This is not just organizational, it’s broader.'”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has been a vegetarian for years. But Netanyahu has also publicly revealed that he and his wife avoid eating meat, adding that their son, Yair is vegetarian. The revelation came after Netanyahu’s meeting with former news anchor Miki Haimovich, an animal rights activist who is leading the ‘Meatless Monday‘ project in Israel, which aims to raises awareness of the health and environmental consequences of increased meat consumption. The idea behind Meatless Monday is that even if you are not vegetarian, if everyone refrained from eating meat only once a week, meat consumption would drop drastically, thus providing significant environmental benefits.
Growing support for animal rights in Israel has also coincided with notable rise of veganism, especially since controversial American activist and vegan guru Gary Yourofsky visited Israel in September 2012. New vegan restaurants have popped up around the country, and a new NGO called “Vegan Friendly” has begun awarding restaurants with a special label if they have sufficiently varied vegan options on their menus. According to a reported Israeli survey, around one million out of Israel’s population of 8 million no longer eat meat.
Meanwhile, a more extreme activist group called ‘269Life’ has also emerged, which is characterised by its members’ symbolic choice to tattoo or burn the number 269 onto their skin as a mark of solidarity with calves who are branded before slaughter. A public branding in Tel Aviv last year launched the movement, and it has spread to countries including Italy, the US, Argentina and Prague.
Animal rights law is an evolving area of law around the world including in Israel. In this light, Israel’s laws against animal cruelty especially animal testing are extremely progressive when you consider that even modern Australia has yet to ban products tested on animals.
In the lead up to last year’s federal election, then Health Minister (current Shadow Foreign Minister) Tanya Plibersek said that if the ALP won the election it would conduct a national consultation to phase out the importation, manufacture, sale and advertising of cosmetics or cosmetic ingredients tested on animals. Ms Plibersek said, “Animals shouldn’t suffer in the quest for better mascara or lipstick… I believe Australia needs to play its part in the international movement against animal testing.”
If Australia does decide to go down that path, Israel along with the EU and recently India, provide positive examples of what can be accomplished.