Israel may become the location of a historic first for animal rights, if a bill banning the import and sale of most types of fur soon becomes law.
While fur was in vogue in the 1950s and ’60s and some people still cling to the desire to drape a fur stole or coat across their body, today many people around the world have rejected the cruelty of the industry and opt not to buy fur. In Israel, a full 86 percent of the population believes that killing animals for their fur is immoral.
In what she calls “an act of redemption for her family’s sins,” Etti Altman, daughter of a furrier based in New York City and co-founder and spokesperson of the Israel branch of the animal rights’ group Let the Animals Live, is spearheading efforts to pass into law in Israel a bill that would ban the sale and import of most fur and fur items.
Animals such as mink, sable, and fox, bred solely for their fur, often endure a life of such cruelty that animal activists feel compelled to act. The small mammals are kept in cramped conditions and are often skinned alive to preserve the quality of their pelts.
Thanks to the lobbying, legal assistance and awareness raising of Let the Animals Live, Israel has adopted a bill that brings it close to being the world’s first fur-free country.
“A global and historic precedent”
Israel’s Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Arden agreed to introduce the bill. Both addressed the Ministerial Committee with the assistance of Minister of Education Gideon Saar.
While the first draft of the bill referred to a ban on cat and dog fur, in its most recent version, introduced by Knesset Members Ronit Tirosh and Nitzan Horowitz, it bans the sale and import of fur and fur items from all mammals, except for the fur on shtreimels (the fur-trimmed hats usually worn on festive occasions by married ultra-orthodox Jewish men from hassidic sects) and the hides of cows and sheep and goats, since cruelty is not involved in culling these animals.
According to Let the Animals Live, “This bill is a global and historic precedent.” It is expected to become law after February 24, when the Education, Culture and Sports Ministry committees will hold a vote on the bill’s amendment. Following their expected approval the bill will go to a second and third reading before it can be passed into law.
If and when it comes to pass, the historic law will include a ban on the fur of exotic mammals and that of dogs, cats and most rabbits. Due to the religious significance of wearing a fur shtreimel, some rabbit, sable and American grey fox fur may still be used in Israel. The animal rights’ groups knew they had to make this exception given the traditional importance of the hat, worn by a minority of the Jewish ultra-orthodox population.
Repairing the world through kindness to animals
While few people’s wardrobes in Israel include fur items, as the climate is far from cold – there were times during the current Israeli winter when temperatures reached the 80s – Altman sees the hoped-for countrywide ban on fur as something of a symbolic gesture that she expects other countries will copy.
“I know I am a bit of a paradox, because I am the daughter of a furrier,” she tells ISRAEL21c. “But in my own way I am ‘repairing’ the world. Our organization decided that if we want to influence the animal rights movement we would need to work with the Israeli Knesset [parliament]. And we are doing a lot more than introducing a bill against fur. We are also lobbying a ‘Cat Bill’ so that the government of Israel will give our organization funds to continue our work of helping street cats. The situation in Israel is desperate.”
Surviving on donations alone, the 25-year-old organization sees to the welfare of feral city cats and finds homes for abused and stray animals. Headquartered in Tel Aviv, it runs an animal shelter in Ramla near Ben Gurion international airport and has only recently added lobbying to its roster. The skeleton staff of 20 works nationwide with hundreds of volunteers.
Israel to lead the way with the new law
Surveys conducted in Israel show that a large majority of Israelis support the fur-free bill. A poll commissioned by Let the Animals Live and the International Anti-Fur Coalition found that 86% of Israelis believe that killing animals for their fur is immoral and 80% back a ban of the fur trade in Israel.
It was only six months ago that Altman began working with the International Anti-Fur Coalition, which has an international coordinator living in Israel. According to the coalition, each year 65 million animals are raised solely for the fur industry.
Later this month the Israeli organization will welcome Rebecca Aldworth, director of Canada’s Humane Society. For the past decade Aldworth has been a firsthand observer of Canada’s commercial seal hunt, as she has escorted more than 100 scientists, parliamentarians and journalists to the ice floes to observe the slaughter firsthand. She has convinced more than 300 retailers in Canada to remove fur from their stores. This year, on February 24 she could be the first to witness a historic moment for animal rights in Israel, if the anti-fur bill is passed into law.