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.
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.
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.