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The rise of Israel's animal rights movement

The last week has been action packed for Israeli animal rights activists, offering further proof of the movement’s growing influence over Israeli society.

Read part 2: Can animal rights take precedence over human rights?

Activists at a Tel Aviv supermarket blocking the Fresh Meat section (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Activists at a Tel Aviv supermarket blocking the Fresh Meat section (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

It started last Friday, when members of an animal rights group stood silently in the center of Tel Aviv. Each member held a dead chicken in his or her hands, wearing t-shirts that read “Their lives are in your hands.” On Tuesday, about 20 activists from several different groups showed up at the Soglowek slaughter house in Shlomi (a small development town near the Lebanese border), chained themselves to the gates of the factory and the approaching bird-carrying trucks. Three were arrested.

On Thursday, another animal rights group held a protest inside a major supermarket in Tel Aviv. The activists poured fake blood all over the poultry section and called upon shoppers to take responsibility for what they buy and eat. One was arrested and held over night in detention before being released the next day. Another quiet vigil took place in the city of Ramle on Friday, where three activists were detained for handing out leaflets which included information on animal rights.

Arrests of an activist in the supermarket (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Arrests of an activist in the supermarket (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

The actions come in the wake of an investigative story aired on the primetime Channel 2 show Kolbotek. The story included a film recorded by activists, which showed the brutal conditions under which chickens are held and slaughtered in the Soglowek Shlomi factory. The show also recently aired a similar story about Tnuva’s cattle slaughter house.

Soglowek slaughter house entrance blocked by activists. Three were arrested (Hila Oz)

Zoglowek slaughter house entrance blocked by activists. Three were arrested (Hila Oz)

The increase is activism coincides with notable rise of veganism and animal rights discourse in Israel. Up until two years ago the movement was extremely small, and although dedicated activists were putting in a lot of hard work and pushing through positive laws in Knesset (like the ban on Foie Gras), the general public and political discourse was oblivious to the issue. The last few years, however, have seen a rise in the movement, especially since American activist and vegan guru Gary Yourofsky visited the country in September 2012. Yourofsky’s famous Hebrew-subtitled YouTube lecture has nearly 700,000 views, and more and more public figures – including prominent journalists, academics, politicians and athletes – have been calling on people to watch the lecture and go vegan, or at least adopt a model of “Meatless Monday.”

Furthermore, new vegan restaurants have opened in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, and a new NGO called “Vegan Friendly” has begun awarding restaurants with special label if they have sufficiently varied vegan options on their menus (and all this in a country that has always been vegetarian friendly by nature). At the same time, a new activist group by the name of 269 was created, characterized by its members’ symbolic choice to tattoo or burn the number onto their skin as a mark of solidarity with calfs who are branded before slaughter. As Haaretz reported, the group became the heart of an international movement of the same name.

A man chained to a truck filled with caged chickens at Soglowek slaughter house (Hila Oz)

A man chained to a truck filled with caged chickens at Soglowek slaughter house (Hila Oz)

And so Israel, or at least a significant part of the Israeli elite, has become a center for animal rights discourse. With animal rights activism on the rise, Yourofsky is about to make another highly-anticipated tour throughout the country. But the current push toward animal rights does not go without criticism, even from the left wing, human rights activists of the movement. I explore these criticisms in a separate post.

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    1. Philos

      Haggai, don’t get me wrong, I am not “pro” animal cruelty, but what da f***? Eretz Nehederet did a great piece on the disappearance of the Palestinians from “left-liberal” consciousness in Israel. It featured two long haired male “Tel Avivian” types doing the human electric power cycle, and Eyal Kitzis asking, “What about the Palestinian issue? Isn’t this important to you anymore?” to which they reply, more or less, “No, it’s tiring and really hard. We can save the Earth without leaving Tel Aviv.”

      And I’ve met some of these people; the hardcore activists. They’re a bunch of misanthropes that couldn’t care less about human suffering. Three million Palestinians suffer at OUR hands on a daily and systematic basis, and these people don’t care. And they help other liberal douchebags feel good about themselves by going vegan. It’s infuriating. Liberalism is the abettor of fascism. It is clear to me now. The only path to freedom is socialism leading to anarcho-communism

      Reply to Comment
      • You did yourself damage with the last two sentences, but in a land of leftist futility that can not matter.

        Here in the US, the Republican controlled House produced a food stamps bill, approved by the Senate and signed by the President, largely to avoid another fight, which cuts previous benefits and continues to do so in the next year. There will be substantial savings for the government thereby. Already, those getting food stamps, including the working poor, are hurting.

        I know some Tea Party Christians. One in particular hates animal cruelty so much she has eaten no meat in over 40 years. She is a cat lady, captures and neuters cats, paying for all shots etc., with little money of her own to spare. She is also a Tea Partier and pro food stamp cutting. As far as I can discern, her reasoning pivots on choice and innocence. Animals are inherently innocent. They cannot be held responsible for their life position, unlike us, who at least have the option to work or accept Jesus as Lord. People are implicitly responsible for where they are; animals, never. So unconditional aid and love go to the latter, but the former must choose and bear the consequences.

        On this site, I have noticed that anti-Palestinian discourse also employs choice, generally at the group level of leaders, but not always. So Palestinians have placed themselves in this position by refusing previous offers; or deserve their treatment because in polls approved of suicide bombing or the expulsion of Jews. Animals don’t have leaders and don’t give opinions when polled.

        I see the animal rights movement as an attempt to find and preserve innocence, to identify and purge a clear, pure wrong. It works. A chicken is not going to come home drunk at night; or steal from you; or marry your child; or murder you after inviting you to a party; or slip on a suicide bomb belt and walk into McDonalds.

        Animal Rights escape human ugliness. Some do it I think because the position seems pure and perfect; and so it is–but without chickens I think the world would be in protein crisis, overall. Some do it perhaps as a first step: if we can do animals rights, later people. And while you may be declared wacko for such actions, no one will call you a race or national traitor–or a class antagonist.

        Our tolerance ends where choice begins. Or where we place choice as beginning. So appeal for Palestinian children has greatest salience over a greater number, and the only way to obviate that is make children cells of future conflict. They will choose so….

        An animal will never choose.

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          Your cat lady also doesn’t seem to like people either. It seems every neighborhood has a cat lady and the ones I knew didn’t have children. I think there is a connection.

          Regarding the “innocent” animals vs the guilty people, just remember that under modern “progressive” ideology, people can’t help what they are, either due to socio-economic conditions as the Marxist “progressives” claim, or due to genetics according to other trends in “progressive” thinking. Thus, according to this, the people are “innocent” too. The cat lady should realize that according to the “progressives”, those on food stamps can’t help it either, they are victims of victims of capitalism or bad genes as well.

          Reply to Comment
          • The woman I refer to is about the most generous person I know. She has almost no money reserves at all because of all the aid she bestows (with quite limited income), from stray cats to tithing in her church to buying food for donation to pantries to loaning money to her extended family. Most of her charity is, however, directed toward submission to God. She is now in her 70’s and must still work given how her finances have gone over the decades.

            As to your progressive comment, she is a Tea Partier and (as often the case here) a fundamental Christian focusing on commitment as choice to obey God. Without this prior choice, aid is suspect, so while she does not like the outlay on food stamps, she is all for free food pantries mediated, mostly, by faith. Innocence is recovered through obedience to God. My point was that animals are irrevocably innocent; humans are not. Progressives do not remove all responsibility. However, they tend to embrace social science as a tool, so are unwilling to make responsibility synonymous with some form of unilateral choice. Behavioral medicine seems to have made some dent into the notion that choice/reason is somehow detached from the body. But how one attaches responsibility and cause is indeed murky. Often it just comes at the limit of either our knowledge or efficacious intervention.

            As to Haggai’s comment, one can critique anything by origin to make it ineffectual. Ideas must be allowed to stand independently of their origin. All I meant to say is that the focus on the innocence of the animal becomes a way out of the guilt/choice recriminations which attend political discourse on things like “peace negotiations” or just how Palestinians are treated in the WB, overall, or, for that matter, how the more urban settlers are treated in left discourse. In any case, return to innocence seems a recurring theme in much political discourse; I’d say it plays a role in framing the uninsured here in the US.

            Reply to Comment
      • Haggai Matar

        Philos and co. – Allow me to direct you to the last line in the post. A second one, discussing exactly the thing you are talking about, will be posted in a day or two. Until then I think it IS important to make readers aware of the developments in this field in Israel, first of all as a vegan myself, but if not for anything else than for the sake of better understanding the next post 🙂

        Reply to Comment
      • Philos, veganism needn’t be reduced to a feel-good lifestyle choice (although for some AR activists it obviously is – I’ve met them too). Veganism makes sense for reasons of environmental sustainability and as a means of addressing food insecurity, and as such it is a natural part of any debate on poverty. It’s also tied into a wider ethic; my intro to veganism came via a radical feminist group that had ‘The Sexual Politics of Meat’ on the bookshelf. In that book Carol Adams examines the relationship between the reduction of animals to objects for consumption and the objectification of women, their consumption (e.g. through porn), and their killing as property (e.g. through domestic violence). Links can also be drawn between veganism and non-violence generally. I don’t think it is possible to compartmentalise these concerns, and this is my main criticism of certain vegan activists who stake out delicatessens with dead chickens in their hands: they do compartmentalise. They don’t connect the dots. But that self-indulgence shouldn’t stop veganism from getting some consideration as a political concern, especially as there is also an equally self-indulgent flip side here – “It’s just my personal choice, foxes eat chickens too, these people want us all to be miserable on diets of soy-based gruel and alfalfa!” The whole thing then becomes reduced to a question of individual choice about lifestyle rather than a matter of ethics that is part of a much broader tapestry.

        Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          I agree with all your main points. The consumption of meat (especially, any red meat) for most of human history was a luxury. For example, the special place afforded to the “Sunday roast” or the Friday meal in Judaism. In Britain until the 1960s most people had fairly vegetarian diets for most of the week because chicken or beef was something that could only be afforded sparingly. The advent of mass production to cattle, poultry and fish has not only massively changed our attitudes to food ($0.99 burgers anyone?) but wrought incredible environmental destruction. The oceans are quite literally being torn to pieces (i.e., trawling that rips to pieces the ocean floor and destroys the breeding habitats of the fish being sought after) in a bid to satiate ever growing demand for cheaply priced fish. The connection between deforestation and the cattle trade in South America is well documented. Things are only set to get worse as the emerging middle-classes in China, South East Asia, India and Africa develop growing appetites for meat, poultry and fish.

          Radical vegans, in my experience, don’t give a damn about these wider structural problems or are that cognizant of it. Many don’t factor in their criticism of meat consumption within the wider criticism of globalized capitalism. Their main concern is that killing animals is wrong, which makes them myopic. And this myopia, I think, makes them insensitive to the suffering of human beings.

          Reply to Comment
      • Batya Bauman

        These two important issues are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive.

        Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      I have to at least partly agree with Philos on this one….many of these animal rights activists are indeed misantropes. They are essentially unhappy, frustrated people that can stand the fact that not everyone is as miserable as they are and so they work hard to convince everyone else to be like them. I read Yourovsky’s interview in Ha’aretz and he says violence is legitimate in his struggle, so a true believer can conclude that it is okay to kill other people in order to save animals, just like a few anti-abortion activists became terrorists and killed abortion doctors. Thus, these extremists are NOT against killing, he just wants to see people get it.

      If man is nothing but another animal, and given the fact that many animals are carnivores, then what is wrong with people eating meat? Does a lion, when it takes down a zebra and eats it, worry about “animal rights”? Does a fox who eats chickens worry about whether his meal was a free-range chicken or not? So why should we?

      Reply to Comment
      • Tracy

        To answer your question, man differs in his ability to empathize and to consider the impact of his actions on other beings. Human beings are also omnivorous and therefore can be fully sustained on plant proteins and nutrients.

        Reply to Comment
    3. I agree that animals in slaughterhouses shouldn’t be subjected to cruelty, but as for the idea that killing animals for meat is murder, which is what the vanguard of the animal rights movement believes, then I figure I’m in good company with all those murdering lions, tigers, fish, etc.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Larry, a lot of animals rape other animals too. Does that mean you think rape is justified? Personally, I don’t base my ethical system on other species’ behavior.

      Reply to Comment
    5. There is very much support for animal rights in the Midrash.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ayla

      To prevent human cruelty to humans, you need to prevent human cruelty to every living creature. If humans allow cruelty to animals through slaughterhouses etc, this undercurrent will remain with us and transfer into cruelty to our fellow humans. How can we possibly justify this cruelty to animals? Oh yes, money. The thing that is more important than a living creature.

      Please everyone, stop ignoring your conscience. You know it is wrong, that is why if now I ask to to go and find a youtube clip of the inside of a slaughterhouse, you will either refuse, or you will find one and watch it and feel uncomfortable. You KNOW it is wrong.

      Humans evolved to eat meat, but they did not evolve to treat other species in this appalling manner. Animals are not commodities. Whether or not you believe they are fully concious, or have souls, or register pain etc etc does not MATTER. It is cruelty, it is wrong, and more importantly you know it without having to be told. Even the slaughterhouse owners know it. They have just managed to block it out to a huge extent, with a screen of money. Even the slaughterers themselves know it. Some of them have buried it so deep that they will get a thrill from the killing, because they know what they are doing conflicts with that deep deep feeling of it not being right. So they get a kick from it. Others are again doing it for money. It is simply a job.

      The animal rights protesters are on the right track. But they are focussing on the end of the line, where they can make little or no difference. Protesting about slaughterhouses, intensive farms, or even animals cruelty in general will at best shock the public and cause a little ripple of action. At worst they will get arrested. Has anything changed? Barely. To really make a difference, it is the root of the problem which needs to be addressed. Treating the symptom will not make the disease go away.

      So what is the root? You could say money. But then you can go even further than that. It is the attitudes of people themselves. So how do you change people’s attitudes? The short answer is: you can’t. People change their own attitudes based on what they experience. The activists demonstrate the cruelty, highlight what they think, and what people should think. But people do not like being told what to do. People like power – over themselves, over money, over animals.

      Think about what causes people to allow slaughterhouses to exist in the first place. They are conditioned throughout their life to accept them as being a part of society, a necessity. That they are there, and that is that. Ignore the gruesome details and buy this meat because it is cheap! Save money which you can use to buy something else! Ignore the suffering of these animals and look at this special offer on clothes/music/games/films/alcohol!

      And people do so.

      So it follows that to prevent this thinking, we have to reverse the conditioning. Simply throwing facts at people is not going to undo years of subtle mental onslaught. Without realising, people have been taught by the corporations that slaughterhouses and intensive farming are fine because it means enough meat for everyone and cheap prices which = good.

      It is not good. The only way to stop this attitude is to give people the opportunity to discover why it is more important to respect living creatures than to abuse them for our food. I am not saying that we should stop eating meat. The consumers drive the machine. If the attitude of the majority changed from what it currently is, into respect and care for the animals we eat, we would not allow slaughterhouses and intensive farms to exist. Yes it would be a huge change, monumental. But why does that mean it cannot happen? Why should we continue with something inherently wrong, just because it is so widespread?

      So please, help to help others to change their attitude. You don’t need to lecture someone – in fact this probably will barely help at all. People need to experience things for themselves. They have experienced that slaughterhouses/intensive farming = cheap meat and saved money. They have been conditioned by subtly, little by little. Now people need to experience why this is not as important as respect to animals.

      How can you do this? Use the same method – little by little, subtly. Help them to understand WHY animals and the earth should be respected. Take people for walks to the countryside so you can enjoy the freshness and see wild animals. Ask them if they agree that it is so great to see wild, free animals. Begin a discussion with anyone about any wild animal or bird you see in the city, and how good it is to see nature present there. Study a leaf. Show a friend or a relative. They may scoff at you, or pretend to be politely interested. But one day when they are waiting for a bus, or walking through a park, they may see a fallen leaf and remember that time showed them one. And the memory might make them laugh, and so they just might pick it up, and look at it closely for a second. Experience it for themselves. Little things. The respect will grow and grow. It is a long, long process. Always stay positive. Each thing you do should start a little ember which will add to the fire. One day that fire might just change the world.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Rhianna

      Yay misanthropy! Yay racism! Yay misogyny! But, hey its alright if the animals are saved right?

      Reply to Comment