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Last September I had the privilege to visit Montreal’s first Vegan festival. It wasn’t only a first opportunity to visit the festival, but also a first opportunity to visit Montreal. Indeed, when we (Ori Shavit, Israeli media person and one of the leading figures in Israel, regarding Vegan lifestyle and animal rights/liberation and myself) got to Montreal, we spent most of the days we had in our disposal touring the city and it’s surrounding. We came upon ‘Marie Reine Du Monde’, a big, impressive church that stood out fearlessly in the middle of construction sites, shopping sprees and office buildings, and we went inside as both of us, secular and detached from religion, are very interested in the architecture and the art of churches. Inside we found paintings that were not the paintings we were expecting. The series of paintings told the story of the conquest of the northern land, rather than holy stories we all know so well. One of them showed Colonel Athanase de Charette charging into war while stepping over a dead horse. The others showed a clear distinction between the white, enlightened Christians who arrived to this land, and the dark skinned ‘barbaric’ indigenous people, ever so amazed by the arrival of the newcomers, only to learn and follow their culture ways and of course, wage war in later paintings. To make a long story short, what we’ve seen is the story of conquest and culture destruction. It happened before and it’s still happening all over the world, if not in the name of religion or nationality then in the name of capitalist progress. Does that sad story about conquest and culture destruction have anything to do with the vegan festival in Montreal? Of course not. More often than not, animal rights/liberation activists can do very little with what countries and cultures are doing to other human beings.

Undercover investigation in “Adom Adom” Slaughterhouse in Israel.

I am writing this in response to a series of articles against the Israeli vegan movement, the latest of which is an article by Dylan Powell in attempt to refute the progress that Israel is going through in regard to animal rights or animal liberation. I am not writing these words in order to defend Israel, as I disagree with many of the actions directed by our government. I am not here to defend any state at all, actually, as in my opinion we should revisit and re-evaluate the necessity of the concept of state and of national separation. I am writing this because of the exhausting crusade to disqualify animal liberation activity by connecting it to governments and forms of human exploitations. I am being very careful and general with my mild accusations, but I have to say that while hearing a lot about the Israeli occupation (I am completely against the occupation, but it’s not important), I have never heard anyone disqualifying the brave actions of Chinese animal rights activists, for instance, even if done while completely neglecting the fate brought on the people of Falon gong or Tibet by the Chinese regime.

Cattle brought to Gaza from Australia by live exports

It would be very easy to attack Iphone using human rights activists who somehow seem to forget about people in North Korea, Syria, Brazil, Africa and many other places around the world, but it’s not an ethical thing to do. Very few activists have the means and the power to spread their actions to every victim, and most of them, most of us, need to focus on few targets in order to do something meaningful. For the same reason, it’s not only wrong but also discouraging to connect animal liberation/rights activists with the actions of the states they live in. Also – if we are concentrating our efforts and energy on Israel and not on other places, it might be easy to form an opinion about Humanitarian issues from outside of Israel, but you need to discard a lot of factors in order to be able to ignore what’s going on culturally without actually witnessing this culture from the inside, at least.

Powell Introduces the Israeli Vegan movement not only as counterproductive, but also as a seemingly convincing curtain that hides Israel’s actions in Palestine and even as Islamophobia. He focuses on two accusations – one is that meat consumption is not really going down and the other is the alleged connection between the vegan movement and the occupation. The progress in Israel is a myth, so he writes, a myth with agenda to it.

My argument is this – There is no actual revolution, of course, but there is indeed a progress, and a great one, in the last 3 years. Furthermore – the criticism regarding the Israeli movement and the Israeli occupation is so artificially welded together, that it spawns some pretty strange arguments, especially from animal liberation activists.

2014 - Demonstration against the live exports from Australia to Israel and to Palestine.

2014 – Demonstration against the live exports from Australia to Israel and to Palestine. Photo by Revital Topiol.

The state of Israel did not promote national vegan lifestyle. In fact, the animal liberation/rights movement in Israel is active for over two decades, with many veteran activists who were or still are also activists against the Israeli occupation. 2011 was a remarkable, even historic year in the Israeli movement. In the following years Israel has gone through an amazing rise in vegan activism, both underground and mainstream. Harsh undercover footages were shown in prime time TV in Israel’s major TV channel. Demonstrations were held in various cities, some with 20 people in them, many with 150-350 people and two great demonstrations with about 5000 people marching and protesting, More vegan restaurants opened and many other restaurants became friendly to vegans, The number of vegan people has risen dramatically and the other side – farmers and scientists who perform experiments on animals, are raging, if not fearing because of this development. The 269life movement has risen and performed amazing actions both in order to save animals and to put this issue in mainstream media. It then became a worldwide movement, working both together and apart from other 269 cells. Of course – the vast majority of the Israeli population is still eating animal products, no one has declared otherwise. Of course – animals are still being tormented and murdered, like in any other state; No one has declared otherwise. However – to know what’s going on in the vegan movement in Israel and to disagree that there is a major progress – this is self inflicted ignorance.

Powell provides links in attempt to prove a non existent decline in meat consumption. His links are not updated, however. They all end in 2011, before the great change in Israel.

This article (Hebrew) from May 12th 2013 tells of a decline (3.7% – 6.1%) in the sales of milk products in all milk companies. On May 2014 the sales dropped by 9.8% . In 2012 there was a 4% decline in chicken consumption, “the first decline in years and maybe decades” .In the first half of 2013 Israel saw a 22% rise in the consumption of milk substitutes.

Is this a reason to celebrate? Hardly, but this is indeed a wonderful progress in the fight for animal liberation through vegan activism. Activists are working really hard for this. In addition to vegan outreach and demonstrations, there are very successful lectures and panels where animal consumption is connected to health problems and environmental issues. In fact, in many conversations about food you will sometimes hear meat eaters apologizing for eating meat.

All of these actions are done by vegan organizations and by private people. The state of Israel has nothing to do with it (if you don’t consider sending cops to watch and record all of our demonstrations) and it would be silly to think otherwise in order to connect what we are doing with the Israeli occupation of Gaza, with the only difference being the political party “Meretz”, a left wing party who is openly against the occupation, which is going to bring three vegan members into the parliament this upcoming March.

Powell questions the existence of progress in the vegan movement in Israel. He adds links to other articles discussing the same subject and writes that “This is important because all of these articles illustrate why even if all of Israel was vegan the occupation of Palestine would still be without justification”. This sentence is obvious, but how is it relevant? If the entire USA will be vegan, it would still hold military bases all over the world and innocent people all over Guantanamo Bay detention camp, England would still spy on its population more than any other country, North Korea would still send civilians to gas chambers and Turkey will still kill Kurds with chemical weapons. Insane Capitalism would still rage on, poverty will still plague humanity, so will corruption and nationalism. While we activists can affect the lives of animals, it is much harder to do so in inter-humanistic politics. I am not sure what Powell wants from the animal liberation/rights movement in Israel because he fails to offer any solution or answer. He does – however, provides us with some very questionable, if not appalling propaganda against animal liberation in Israel, in relation to the Israeli occupation. The worse and most infuriating example is from the web page he provides, called “Resistance Ecology”, under the title “Animal Liberation against Israel, we stand with Palestine”. I am pretty sure that the people behind this page do not know what animal liberation is, if they dare show the pictures that they put on their page.

What we see in their web page is the photos of the miserable animal casualties of the horrible war between Israel and Palestine. One photo shows “Palestinian walks past a wounded cow at an animal farm east of Gaza City, after an Israeli air strike” and the other shows a photo of “Palestinians inspect destruction after Israeli airstrike in Gaza.”. This is infuriating because these miserable animals were meant to be murdered for food anyway, and the people of “Resistance Ecology” seem to forget this in effort to protect the owners of these animals. Similar things happened in Israel as well. One article in the newspaper showed a Palestinian rocket hitting a dairy farm, killing and wounding some of the cows. The vegan community’s reaction to this attempt to show the poor animals who had no chance against the Palestinian rockets was sharp and clear – How dare you even say that and ignore the fact that these poor cows are being exploited throughout their lives until being murdered anyway? This is the reaction I expect from an animal liberation activist in front of an attempt to project the effects of inter-human hostility on farm animals.

Powell ends his text with a question that is not only far fetched but also obscene. He shows how (allegedly) high Israeli meat consumption is, as opposed to Arab states in the Middle East, and as the information he provides shows such a dramatic difference between the two cultures, he asks whether considering an Israeli progress in lowering the meat consumption is “Islamophobia”

This is mind boggling. First of all – how is a description of internal shifts and movements in Israel’s vegan movement is islamophobic or has anything to do with Islam? If anything, Powell should be aware of a group in the north of Israel, called the ‘Vegan North‘, who regularly demonstrates with Arab activists, Christians and Muslims, in Arab villages and in Haifa, which has mixed population.

Arab - Jewish demonstration for animal liberation in Haifa, by the "Vegan North"

Arab – Jewish demonstration for animal liberation in Haifa, by the “Vegan North”

Furthermore, Israel is a state that is heavily influenced (and influencing) by the hostile western capitalism, with obvious high rates of consumption in practically everything. The meaning of the word “Progress” is that there is some change for the better (decline in consumption). It has nothing to do with how high or low this consumption is in relation to other places.

Powell misses the point of the vegan movement. The point is not the building of a vegan community within the animal exploiting community in Israel. The point is to end animal slavery. My aim is to end the occupation as well, but unfortunately I have very little to do about it.

Powell does not provide a solution, so I will provide one. The key for the success of the activist is action, and action leads to other actions by other people. Human rights activists in Israel should learn from what we animal liberation activists do, in the same way we sometime learn from them. It is very easy to write on both subjects, but it is very hard to successfully do meaningful things in both fields. Israel’s first liberation farm was founded by the 269life movement half a year ago, and is now serving as the new home for many animals whose lives were saved. Other people dedicate their lives in order to save animals from laboratories or slaughterhouses, and with relative success, like over 1000 monkeys who were supposed to be sent to laboratories around the world, but were saved, could tell you. Powel is welcome to visit Israel and Join the Bil’in demonstrations against the occupation, or see the wonderful women in black who protest on every Friday against the occupation. He is also welcome to suggest other means of actions because those who act against the occupation could sure use more good ideas instead of just putting them in the same line with their government. Doing this, for instance, is counter productive.

9 thoughts on “Misconceptions about Israeli animal liberation.

  1. Thanks for this post Oren. Some very basic things that I think you missed.

    I write extensively on settler colonialism and veganism in North America. Everything written under the tag of “Veganism in the Occupied Territories” on my site covers this topic. The idea that people in North America do not similarly investigate histories and current practices of settler colonialism in relation to vegan communities is false.

    My critique is of green washing in Israel and the role that plays to leverage and lessen criticisms of occupation – either by the State, or through functions which similarly protect the State’s interests/the interests of occupation. I am not so obtuse as to believe that there are not anti-apartheid vegans in Israel and I know that the anti-apartheid movement in Israel has a long tradition and history of vegan activism. I celebrate and support that and that is not what I am levelling a critique at. I’ve been happy that what I wrote reached those people and that they too have seen the importance of the critique. I did not write a wholesale condemnation of veganism, veganism in Israel, or claim that to be vegan in Israel is “Islamophobic.” I am writing about the framing of narratives that celebrates greenwashing and the myth of a “vegan Israel” – both within the country and outside – and probing what the broader implications are.

    There is no grand conspiracy in relying on numbers from 2011 for per capita meat consumption. Those are the last available numbers. What I relied on are regional/global trends and Israel’s per capita meat consumption since the 1960’s. I know many people claim anecdotal evidence that these numbers have drastically dropped, but any simple math will illustrate that even a full 5% of the population going vegan since 2011 would still have state well above per capita meat consumption in the region, world average, EU, etc. This is a moot point, and if data suggests that there are declines I would welcome those numbers, but ultimately the critique is based upon why do people celebrate Israel as the “most vegan nation” – when per capita meat consumption is extremely high? The declines you point to are also similar to trends in North America and in the West generally.

    I thought it was overtly implied throughout what I wrote that the suggestions offered be that advocates focus on metrics which provide actual progress for animals and use tactics, strategies and messaging that cannot be co-opted by state interests.

  2. Thank you Oren for this important text. I completely resented Powell’s blog, which was only motivated by hatred to Israel, nothing more and nothing less. His logic leaps were unbelievable, with childish arguments and false data (he showed data from 2011 – BEFORE the beginning of the vegan movement).
    First nations in Canada, until today, are suffering from discrimination, neglect, and various problems. Canada as a member of NATO participated (and still is) in many operations in which thousands of innocent people died. Can I connect it to a possible scenario in which Canada is becoming entirely vegan? Of course not.

  3. I was in attendance at Ori Shavit’s presentation at the Montreal Vegan festival and I remember feeling very embarassed that the two people who got to ask open mic questions used this privilege to make petty comments about Israel and the Jewish faith instead of focusing on what Ms Shavit had actually talked about.

    I’m glad I got to talk to her shortly and hope to see the both of you again in Montreal

    • I was there too! It was very interesting indeed!
      The video of Shavit’s talk should be available soon, I think.

  4. I AM vegan. I AM NOT a Zionist. But I believe in the vegan revolution in Israel!

    OREN BEN YOSEF > Thanks for this insightful article and thoughts. It is wonderful to have an angle “from within” instead as from a “critical observer” standpoint.

    When I read DYLAN POWELL’s blog post, my reaction was as follows:
    ****************
    The Israeli data used in Powell’s post are from 2011 (yes, it is important!), which precedes the vegan revolution of recent years. For example, one of the first big events for animal rights took place in August 2013 (I was there, and it was very real and moving to experience!). And it is from this walk that many among the Israeli population grasped the magnitude of the movement. Since then, new organizations / initiatives / shelters / cooking classes, etc. have emerged, and veganism has become more and more mainstream. In addition, the large dairy companies themselves claim that global demand decreases. Since 2013, dairy companies such as Tnuva have launched many new alternatives to milk and plenty of restaurants offer options and / or a vegan menu.

    M. Powell seems to criticize the vegan movement in Israel while there is clearly a form of oppression and discrimination that exists against Palestinians. Although I appreciate that this idea is underlying somehow, I also feel it is too easy to make such a statement (especially since having little knowledge of the country / language itself!). I think it is a shame to only talk about this, as many Israeli animal rights activists are also upset and fight against these contradictions regarding the rights of Palestinians. Most are indeed able to put two and two together and fight to end ANY form of oppression. And there are also new “seeds of initiatives” where Jews and Arabs work together to organize events and build shelters (especially in the Haifa area north of the country), the very initiatives mentioned by BEN YOSEF.

    Yet, my 6 years in crazy / fascinating / disturbing Israel taught me that in reality, things are not so simple, or black and white. It does not work with some “good guys” and “bad guys.” My opinion on the conflict is constantly changing depending on the angle / element looked at. Israel is a country going through a highly complex conflict and society, and many Israelis are jaded of the conflict, disillusioned with the prospects for an impossible peace (because ‘peace’ in theory, yes, but in reality….). As such, for many vegan Israelis I met, it seems much easier to advocate with their plate against an equally significant injustice, that of the oppression towards other species. It is an action that everyone can do personally and easily. Against the oppression of the Palestinians, Israelis can certainly boycott products from Jewish settlements, protest at Sheikh Jarrah / East Jerusalem demolitions, support extraordinary NGOs such as Breaking the Silence, vote for the “best of the bad politicians”. And many actually pose these actions, but…. the fact remains that these actions are often less direct than to change one’s diet and control the damage we can do now for others. Israel is in conflict, and it is very hard to imagine what people experience on the ground (on both sides!). There is also the fact that fighting against the conflict brings a vast array of emotions. I mean the lives of many people within Israel have been affected by the war (loss of a family member, friend, neighbour) with the “Palestinian enemy”, so there was probably an element of emotion at play here. It is very hard to judge the Israeli people without having been born and lived within its society.

    I also saddens me that both sides of the conflict are always presented as two homogeneous blocks, it is always like that: Israelis / Jews and Palestinians. Whereas in fact, it is very heterogeneous. There are ‘many Israels’ and ‘many Palestines’.
    Myself, I am conflicted on these issues, I admit. On the one hand, I am delighted that an institution as large as organized like the IDF allows his soldiers to eat vegan food and wear faux-leather boots, and so what if they are even tweeting about it! BUT on the other hand, I do see a contradiction, in theory. Yet, let us think of if the Canadian Forces did the same thing (offer an entirely vegan menu to his soldiers and vegan clothing), this would not alter the fact that Canadian troops have conducted horrible strikes on civilian targets within NATO. Powell writes that even if all of Israel was vegan, there would still be conflict and Palestinian suffering and human rights violations, and I think this statement is very obvious. If the entire Canada became vegan, would the rights of First Nations minorities be in a better? How dare Canadian vegan activists fight for the ending of seal hunting and fur coats while some First Nations communities still live in very low HDI indicators by UN standards?! Does that mean they are evil and should be criticized for the activism they do? No. I feel this sort of thinking is counterproductive.

    In any case, I think Powell’s article was a bit insulting to extraordinary individuals who are working very hard to change things from within Israel, both for animal and Palestinian rights. And sometimes it is through animal rights which communities come closer!
    ***********
    And I THANK M. BEN YOSEF for taking the time to write a constructive response to this somewhat misleading article which seem to tirelessly aim to be against Israelis, no matter what, due to the conflict.

  5. im A very patriotic israeli and a very patriotic (lol) vegan

    they have no conection one another – you want to know why i am a zionist just google the term “pallywood” and read about cases but not from one website read at least 3 google results when typing pallywood

    and im vegan thanks to youtube videos of animal abuse and all the resarch that came from that

    They both are unrelated – and people who hate israel can be vegan and people who love israel can be vegan – if i like it or dont
    i wish they were connected but they are not

  6. Pingback: Does intersectionality forgive the unprievlieged butcher? | Of Four Horses

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