Recently, an elaborated article targeting the animal liberation movement 269life was published, accusing members of the movement in a wide range of accusation, from being sexist to being racist and so on and so forth. More than anything else, this kind of accusations turn the animal liberation movement into a giant snake that eats himself. Here is my reply to the original post, titled “What’s Wrong with the Israeli Animal Rights Movement, 269?”.
The movie “Waking life” has a lot of great moments in it, but this is certainly one of the best parts – we see four young guys walking down the street, talking about ideology and action.
“(…) The comfort will never be comfortable for those who seek what is not on the market. A systematic questioning of the idea of happiness. We’ll cut the vocal chords of every empowered speaker. We’ll yank the social symbols through the looking glass We’ll devalue society’s currency. To confront the familiar. Society is a fraud so complete and venal that it demands to be destroyed beyond the power of memory to recall its existence. Where there is fire, we will carry gasoline. To interrupt the continuum of everyday experience and all the normal expectations that go with it. To live as if something actually depended on one’s actions (…)”.
They walk and they talk, until they see an elderly man sitting helplessly and aimlessly on top of a telephone pole. “Need any help?” they ask, but the man insists on staying there. As they leave, one of them refers to that elderly man as “Stupid bastard.” His friend then says- “No worse than us. He’s all action and no theory. We’re all theory and no action.”
(The mentioned part of the movie starts at 01:15:00, but you should watch all of it if you haven’t already)
Every now and then, when I meet with Sasha or other core members of the 269life movement in Israel, I get to hear funny stories about a new theory that was written in order to grasp these people in a simple definition. They were called Satanists, Zionists and Nazis, among other imaginative titles. It’s funny at first, but it really is a sad example of how Internet’s sensationalism works. I am writing this text in response to yet another article about (against) Israeli animal liberation activism, written by Shawndeez Davari Jadalizadeh and titled “What’s Wrong with the Israeli Animal Rights Movement, 269?”. But before I will get to dissect that text, I feel like I have to write few guidelines about myself, so readers will be able to read my words in a more fitting context.
The people of the 269life movement in Israel are good friends of mine. I try to help them in some of their actions, and they help me in my actions. I am not a strict member of the movement, and I do not share their “Animals first” point of view. While animals are facing the most violent, serious, intense and alarming crisis on earth, I do not think this is a good reason to neglect Human-related issues. I ask the human rights activist not to eat animals, and I ask the animal liberation activist not to be misogynist or racist. Furthermore, I am against all beliefs in nationality and national identity, as they are destroying the human world, thus destroying the entire planet, with their conceptual poison. Nevertheless, since we live in a culture of nationality (even if it’s dying nationality), I believe that all people who demand nationality should get one, including, of course, Palestinians. I participate in left wing human rights events, although my initiatives and main focus in life are strictly as an animal liberation/rights activist. I am writing this because, as I mentioned before in a text called “Misconceptions about Israeli animal liberation“, for some reason unknown to me, an Israeli activist needs to apologize for the actions of her or his country, while I never heard anyone demanding the brave, amazing activists in China, who empty entire trucks of cats and dogs and save all of these animals from horrific death, to condemn what China is doing to Tibet, to the members of Falun Gong, to its people or the world. China, obviously, is not the only example. Native Americans and aboriginal people are left out from the list of demands from American and Australian animal liberation activists. Closer to home, Kurds are being left out from the Turkish animal liberation movement. Do I think these people should get recognition, rights, decent lives and peace? Of course. Would I press a button that might make their lives even harder, maybe, by making all animal products illegal starting tomorrow? Absolutely and without hesitation, as I understand that the crisis of animals is much more severe and lethal than the crisis of any of these people, should they need to stop eating hamburgers now, on top of their daily hardship. This distinction is highly important. When we see someone robbing a store, we do not stop to ponder about the robbers possible problems in life, problems that might have led her or him into crime. We do what we can to stop the robbery, and only then we can start take the story of the robber into account. As mentioned before, I put myself in the “One fight” group, demanding animal and human liberation, but sometimes I see activists in this same group, who are so preoccupied with human hardship, that they tend to forgive the robber even while the act of robbery still takes place. Some of the words that Shawndeez Davari Jadalizadeh wrote made me realize she has done exactly that mistake.
Shawndeez opens with the “Non Human First” declaration and its problematic guidelines and correlations to the 269 movement. As this declaration seems to turn the back on human related issues, in order to better focus on animal liberation, she writes that “In particular, this defining Article condones racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia in the animal rights movement by allowing activists to enter without engaging a critical stance on systematic oppression.” To my understanding, this declaration does not let anyone “enter” anywhere, but asks everyone to go out and fight for the animals. Another important thing that has to be remembered is that the fact that someone does not occupy himself with the importance of gay rights, and in fact – does nothing about this issue, does not make him homophobe. Hating (or fearing) gay people makes you a homophobe, not ignoring their struggle. This reminds me of the words of bill hicks, who talk in favor of the right to burn flags. He doesn’t want to burn a flag, but he doesn’t care if you burn a flag or not. Think to yourself whatever you want, be quiet about it and come help the animals, that is the goal of this message (a message I don’t necessarily agree with, but this is not the case). I do draw a line between “Think” and “Act”, and I will offer an example from action, not from theory, in order to explain why I am doing this:
The members of 269life in Israel do not organize protests, but they come and support them when they are being held. On one occasion, as we were protesting in front of the egg and poultry board’s building, a certain activist showed up, wearing a 269 shirt. I will not get into legal definitions and wording, concerning the question whether he is guilty or not, but there were stories about that person harassing female activists on several occasions. It was Sasha who came to this person, and demanded him to cover his shirt with a coat, if he insists on staying and not leaving, as Sasha did not want his actions to be related to 269 in any way. In other words, and in order to make this very long story slightly shorter, “Animals first” asks everyone to join in the animal liberation struggle, but while these activists might not care for your thoughts; they care for your actions.
To be frank, Shawndeez offers some pretty scary disinformation, and if not strictly disinformation, then a tabloid-like manipulation of truths. One of these instances is when she writes that “Famous for their brutal and inflammatory demonstrations, 269 has a history of engaging in protest tactics which involve violence against human beings.”, somehow failing to state that this violence is practiced, staged, and done on willing participants. I remember hearing about how activists around the world were sure that in their second branding demonstration, 269life activists actually kidnapped a young mother from the crowd in the street, forcibly took her baby and tortured her as a part of the demonstration. These kinds of twisted half-thinking only feed the demonizing of hardcore activism, while creating statements that couldn’t be further from the truth. Obviously, and I feel stupid to even mention this, that woman is an activist as well, and this part of the demonstration was rehearsed endlessly, taking all possible precautions. Mentioning this specific demonstration, alongside activists posing as KKK members and slaves (all in order to raise awareness to the animal holocaust!), Shawndeez keeps expressing her worries about “triggering” and the disturbing imagery of (white) activists reenacting historical (and contemporary) horrors. Isn’t “triggering” a good thing when there’s need to wake up people to the atrocities done to animals? Isn’t there a strong, undeniable correlation between human exploitation and animal exploitation? How devoted do we, animal liberation activists, need to be in order to keep the peace of mind of bystanders? Is it more important than saving animal lives and making their crisis a real issue?
269life’s aim is to shock, thus broadening the perimeters of discussion about animal liberation. This has been their aim from the very first day of branding the first three 269 members, and they are very successful at it. At the animal rights national conference 2015 in Washington DC, Sasha Bojoor emphasized a very important point that has to be understood by people who do not realize why 269 activists are doing what they’re doing. By avant-garde, hardcore demonstrations, the 269life movement pushes animal liberation into the media, and to the minds of the people, and they are doing great work at it. Sasha was also smart enough to understand and then to explain that the 269life movement’s methods cannot, in fact, be the only methods in the struggle against animal slavery, and that their actions are thus intended to make room for the actions of all other organizations and movements. I wish more activists would be so accepting and conscious to the importance of other organizations.
The human world is violent, the 269life movement shows this violence, and who else is going to suffer this exhibitionist, yet controlled form of violence, if not 269life members themselves? More importantly, to answer Shawndeez’s claims – the members of 269life movement do not ignore, or have not forgotten the past, as they talk about human slavery- on the contrary; they know their past, and they are using it in order to shed light on the present.
As someone who fully supports human rights issues and struggles, I see too many times people who fight both for animal and human rights, as they slowly (or quickly) slip themselves out of the animal rights struggle. When Shawndeez implies that “The third and final article of the Declaration is a “call on human beings to free their own (non-human) slaves before demanding their own rights.”” Means that “ It is also more than apparent in the title as well as the language of the Declaration that this is fundamentally an agenda to promote animal rights at the expense of human rights, under the guise of “urgency” for animals.”, it seems like, again, she forgets that whenever one group of humans oppresses another group of people, BOTH groups exploit animals, often more cruelly and maliciously than human oppression. To me it seems that if I am to support “One fight”, and to consider animal and human lives to be equal, then the natural and obvious consequence of that ideology would be to NEVER permit the killing of an animal, in the same way I would NEVER permit the killing of a human. It also means that I have to understand that the condition of animals is indeed more urgent, and that, for example, millions of baby chicks who were born today will be murdered in a little more than a month of their meat, a fact that (luckily) has no similar match in the human world. It doesn’t mean that I should belittle human suffering in any way; it only means I must remember that both sides of each conflict eat chickens.
Israeli animal abuse in slaughterhouses
Palestinian animal abuse in slaughterhouses
Shawndeez is not the first person, locked behind written words and far fetched criticism from afar, to consider the 269life movement in Israel, whose core members are of varied religious, cultural backgrounds and skin colors (most of them- women) as racist or sexist. The mistake is simple – as sometimes we tend to consider someone who does not care about race issues as racist, in the same way we consider someone who do not care about animal lives as carnist. But the person who do not deal with racism doesn’t have to be racist himself, while the person who do not care about animal lives actually eats them. As mentioned above, most of the 269life movement’s members are actually women, including members from other countries, that I am fortunate to have met online. Be it Marina from 269 Greece, who is working hard on the local activities with her spouse Nikos, or Alex from 269 New Zealand, who has been documenting slaughterhouses since she was 15(!), and working alone since then, as she actually doesn’t know any other vegan in the area where she lives. Many vegans would have withdrawn from their activity, even from their diet, if they ever felt so alone, but Alex, like Marina, Zoe from Israel and the rest of the members of this movement, male or female, have been showing dedication to the cause, without considering their own hardship for a second. To my knowledge, they are also the first activists who ever sought participation with a wonderful group of Arab vegans in the north of Israel, and held together great demonstrations.
It’s really a shame that the writer fails to see the animals, over and over again, in the actions of the 269life movement. Do these public demonstrations, in which 269 members, including women, suffer from staged and controlled violence actually promote or normalize violence towards women? This sounds like a wild accusation, based on absolutely nothing. As a spectator in several of these events, I can say that what they have caused only two things – shock and disgust. Also – obviously, as these demonstrations were connected to violence done to animals, the message was there, and it was well understood. Contrary to what is written by critics from all over the world, 269life movement shows that Pain is Pain. 269life members shows the people what violence looks like, and not one of the viewers in the street, even racist and sexist people, thinks this is done in order to normalize any sort of violence.
Remember when the band Nirvana came up with the anti rape song, called “Rape me”, and everyone was shocked and appalled? That’s exactly the case.
It’s a shame that the article I am writing against contains such wild accusations as “By designing these deeply gendered performances, 269’s work supports the notion that violence against women is possible, and worse, acceptable.”, killing two birds with one stone by describing these demonstrations as “deeply gendered” (they are not. There are also male activists demonstrating, of course), and by claiming that they make violence towards women acceptable. I would expect a thoughtful reader to ask for evidence for both claims.
There are two extremely grotesque moments in the text of Shawndeez against the 269life movement. The lesser of these two is when she writes that “even if we are to assume that the woman has agreed to participate of her own accord in an action which deliberately brings harm to her body, the violence still occurs.”. What boggles the mind here is not the complete disregard for male activists who take part in the same actions, or the acknowledgment that most often than not, more women take part in these demonstration either because they are more courageous, or simply because there are no other men in the local group. The scary part is found in the beginning of the claim, asking us TO ASSUME that women have agreed to participate in these violent actions. In other words, once again, there is more than a subtle hint in here for the absurd possibility that female activists are being drawn to these demonstrations without consent. Again and again, the writer seems to abuse the fact that the 269life movement focuses only on animals. This fact is being clearly remembered when these activists need to be held responsible for not dealing with human issues, but it is forgotten entirely when Shawndeez’s text attempts to convince us that all their actions ever do is to promote violence against people, without taking animals into consideration at all. This happens once again when she writes about their “Got Rape?” image, with total ignorance to the specific bovine rape in question. Contrary to what Shawndeez writes, that poster speaks about one very understandable issue, through imagery and context – the raping of cows, a procedure we cannot just ignore and sit quietly about.
The same goes to the accusations against an image showing not the juxtaposition of a black human face and a white calf as opposites, as Shawndeez makes an effort to explain, but the correlation between them. That poster is, again, an anti slavery poster. It reminds us of the human slavery, and projects that painful issue on animal slavery. Had Shawndeez explored her subject of accusation a little, she would have found their very memorable slogans – Blood is blood, suffering is suffering, fear is fear. This is exactly what this poster is about. This is exactly what the 269 agenda is about. Animal suffering equals human suffering, no more, no less.
On another jaw dropping part of her text, it seems like Shawndeez takes the side of a butcher who has just murdered a cow, because of his skin tone. This is the exact moment when “One fight” disintegrates into humanism – the belief that humans are more important than animals. No animal liberation activist has to care about the ethnicity of the butcher, as she or he demands or acts to liberate the cow, pig, sheep, fish, chicken or any other animal. The writer then writes that “Islamophobia is increasingly on the rise and entirely unaddressed within the animal rights community”, but Antisemitism is also on the rise, and we, animal liberation activists, must not take that into account when facing violence towards animals done by Jews. Here in Israel, we do not care if these acts of murder are being done in Yom kippur by orthodox Ashkenazi rabbis who murder chickens for their cruel beliefs, or if these acts of violence are done by Arabs for Eid ul adha. What difference is it between people who take the butcher’s side into consideration, and people who take a rapist’s side into consideration? ALL violence should be stopped, and only then we can talk about issues, stories and sides.
When mentioning an interview with prolific animal liberation activist Santiago Gomez, Shawndeez accuses Gomez for arguing that “intersectionality is fundamentally a human-centric“. We should note two things, one – Gomez was not proven wrong by the writer, and two- The entire article against the 269life movement does not take animals into consideration even once! Not once are we to understand if, according to the writer, 269life movement is counter productive to animal liberation. The only problem discussed is the alleged offense to humans. Furthermore, when Shawndeez refers to Gomez’s claim that “The oft-repeated argument that the animal rights movement should concern itself with human rights because “humans are animals too” would be a prime example of such a linkage, as would any reference to the low wages or dangerous work conditions of those poor slaughterhouse workers. The chant “human freedom, animal rights, one struggle, one fight!”—an ahistorical, apolitical, decontextualized and across-the-board flawed syllogism if there ever was one”, She only writes that –
“Citing the crux of intersectional activism, concern for human struggles, as an antithesis to his activism, Gomez illustrates his aversion to intersectional activism. Ridiculing the notion that humans are animals too as an arm of whitewashing oppressed/oppressor relations, Gomez is again, reifying the Non-Humans First Declaration”.
Why did she not prove him wrong, then?
Then we get to the real deal- again, never have I heard similar accusations towards activists from China, USA, Iran, Turkey or any other state that treat some or all of its people inhumanely, but nevertheless, the article then accuses 269life that “The group has effectively designed a logic, the Non-Humans First pro-Israeli occupation logic, which permits its followers to support the Israeli occupation in justifying their animal rights activism“. Something very serious has to be said about this common thinking: I will take myself as an example – I oppose Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories. I can go to the occasional demonstration, and I can talk to people about it. However, the government is responsible to this situation. I can help elect a different government, but there’s really not too much that I can do otherwise. The animal liberation struggle, on the other hand, does not come from above, from the government, but from below- from the people. Adding this fact to the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians torment and kill animals, with the apparently necessary reminder that the members of 269 in Israel work “Against” the Israeli crowd, renders this claim made by Shawndeez irrelevant and very unproductive. 269 is an A-political movement. This makes its members openly defiant to both Zionist and Anti Zionist approaches. Shawndeez have been trying to emphasize how members of the 269 movement don’t care about human issues, now they are members of a Zionist cabal all of a sudden? Actually, for better or worse, whenever there’s a human-centered political argument between right winged and left winged activists in Israel, members of the 269life movement are the only ones to demonstrate consistent silence on this topic, while emphasizing the damage done to animals in the process. On the other hand I can point on the web page called “Animal liberation against Israeli occupation” who, without any sense of shame, used a photo of dead cows from an Israeli air strike in Gaza, while disregarding the fact that these cows were supposed to suffer and be murdered by the hands of Palestinians, had they not been killed by Israelis. Is it possible that Santiago Gomez was right after all?
Getting closer to the end of her text, Shawndeez writes that
“Bojoor shared an image which read “Save an animal. Encourage hunters to drink and drive.” Although all animal rights activists can, to some extent, understand the anger and frustration with humans which cause violence towards animals, the idea of encouraging violence towards humans cannot and will not resolve the issue of violence against animals. Suggesting the death of humans, no matter how much we disagree with them, is a clear articulation of irresponsible, ungrounded, and irrational activism. More importantly, it cannot bring about nonviolence or compassion towards animals, as Bojoor’s posts suggest”.
Now – beyond the point that this is an example of a humoristic statement (you can argue about the quality of this humor if you want), and that, up until now, no animal liberation activist has discussed the virtues of driving under the influence of alcohol with a hunter, what is alarming in this part of her text, is the description of hunters as humans we “disagree” with, suggesting hunting as a legitimate action that activists just happen to not like. Besides that, and I am not referring to the writer now, because I don’t know her and she may be a sensible human being who doesn’t think in this twisted way, There is an alarming number of activists around the world who seem to support armed resistance against oppressing countries, yet demand the struggle for animal liberation to be non violent. Me? I am against violence either way, but if vegan activists support armed resistance against Israel (you can see this all over facebook), but insist of non violence towards people who treat animals with violence, then again – we see how “One fight!” is being corrupted into “Humanism!”. So this is only natural, that when Shawndeez writes that “Even more problematic, Bojoor deliberately and unequivocally stands against intersectionality as a baseline for social justice activism. He writes, “Intersectionality is a bankrupt ideology, the proof is easy to see, its all around us.” Whatever proof Bojoor is referring to, I have yet to see it“, she does not realize that her text, completely oblivious to the crisis of animals, and to the intended aim and target of the different 269life demonstrations, is a great example for the claim made by Bojoor.
Earlier, I have mentioned one of the two shocking and grotesque statements written by Shawndeez in her anti 269life article. The second one, more horrible than the first, closes her text when she writes that “We must make clear in the animal rights community, yet again – the revolution will be intersectional or it won’t be my revolution.”
Does this closure actually means that if tomorrow we liberate all animals from human hands, without being able to heal the deep wounds humans inflict on other humans, then what we did was in vain? Really? This reminds me of the abolitionists who criticized the victory of animal rights activists in Israel over Foi Gra . Are you that entangled in your own ideologies, that you actually oppose a victory that saves lives of other beings? This is actually scary, and a very dangerous approach.
Coming from a more “One fight” orientation, There are a lot of things that should be learned and adapted from the “Animal first” way of thinking, including focus and commitment. On the negative side, where activists who support the “Animal first” way can backfire through deep, expressed hatred towards humans, the activists who support “One fight” can neglect animals in favor of human related issues. Perhaps it would be more productive to remember that beside activists of both ways, the majority of the population does not actually care about animals, and a large part of these people is openly racist or sexist. It would be better to focus efforts on that part of the human world, instead of endlessly arguing about what other activists are lacking of. None of us is perfect, but wasting time on pointing at flaws instead of offering a different direction is a sure way to lose this battle. If anything- I have to admit, more important and immediate than mere declarations on an internet page, the major difference I see between these two groups, is that people who consider themselves as “One fight” tend to sweat more when they have to explain how come they own a smart phone that was made by human slaves. We can discuss this sometime. If we ever find the time.