Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Israel Poised to Be First Country to Ban Fur Trade

AOL News Tuesday, August 24

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

JERUSALEM (Aug. 24) -- Israel is set to become the first country in the world to impose a blanket ban on the import of animal fur -- a move animal rights activists hope will have a domino effect around the world.

On Sept. 2, the Knesset is due to debate the second and third readings of the groundbreaking bill introduced by Ronit Tirosh, a legislator from the opposition Kadima Party, to outlaw the production, processing, import, export and sale of fur from all animal species not already part of the meat industry.

There was some opposition from religious groups representing ultra-orthodox Jews, whose traditional festive headgear, known as a shtreimel, is made partly from fox fur. Tirosh introduced a clause in her proposed legislation allowing for the import of fox fur for religious purposes.
Israel is set to become the first country in the world to impose a blanket ban on the import of animal fur - a move animal rights activists hope will have a domino effect around the world
Yehuda Raizner, AFP / Getty Images
Animal rights activists wear fake furs covered with fake blood during a protest against selling fur on Nov. 27, 2009, in Tel Aviv.

Israel's fur trade is tiny -- worth only about $1 million a year -- compared with more than $11 billion worldwide, according to the International Fur Trade Federation.

Fur industry lobbyists in Israel and abroad, fearful of the international repercussions of the Israeli legislation, launched a furious campaign and managed to sink a similar bill earlier this year.

"A ban on all fur throughout the country would be a world first -- a major stand against the animal cruelty inherent in the worldwide fur trade -- and it would set an example that other countries would look to and follow," says a report by Humane Society International, which sent two officials to testify before a Knesset committee in Jerusalem earlier this year.

The group says that fur factory farming has already been banned in Austria, Croatia and the United Kingdom. In other countries, including Denmark and the Netherlands, legislation is in place to phase out the farming of certain animals for their fur. The European Union and the United States have banned trade in seal fur products and cat and dog fur. The group says the steel-jawed leghold trap -- one of the chief means used to catch wild animals for their fur -- has already been banned in more than 60 countries, including Israel.

Tirosh, a former teacher and Ministry of Education official, says concern for animal rights is important in teaching humane and ethical values to Israeli children. She says she has been concerned about the issue for some time but began her campaign after watching a TV documentary produced by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel, broadcast in February 2009, that portrayed the cruel treatment of live animals by the fur industry. The graphic footage contained in the documentary, which showed cats and dogs being skinned alive, sparked a major debate in Israel.

She is optimistic her bill will be passed. "The chances of it becoming law are very high. I started a long time ago, and we took it step by step," she told AOL News. "I hope that many other countries will follow us. The world is moving forward regarding the rights of animals."

Public opinion polls commissioned by the International Anti-Fur Coalition and the Israeli animal rights group Let Animals Live found that 86 percent of Israelis opposed the killing of animals "if they are killed only for their fur," and 79 percent said they would "support a bill to ban the trade of fur in Israel."

On Sunday, Tirosh overcame the final obstacle: opposition from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, which had been lobbied hard by the fur industry.

She said she held a spirited debate with Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the industry minister, and persuaded him to not oppose the bill.

"They came under big pressure from the industry and from people abroad," she said. There was strong lobbying against the bill by industry representatives from Denmark and the Fur Council of Canada. Israeli media report that the Danish ambassador to Israel also tried to quash the bill.

Animal rights groups have joined an international campaign to support the bill. They have been joined by such celebrities as Brigitte Bardot and Sir Paul McCartney.

"I would like to thank you personally for your help and support promoting the law against the commerce of fur in Israel," Bardot -- a longtime animal rights activist and a supporter of the extreme far-right and often racist politics of French politician Jean-Marie le Pen -- wrote in a letter to Knesset members, urging them to "let Israel be a light unto the nations in the choice between mercy and evil."

McCartney wrote on his blog: "Fur is cruel and unnecessary. To skin an animal alive for a product nobody needs is beyond comprehension. ... By banning such a cruel industry, Israel would provide a shining example in care and compassion that others would be sure to follow."

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