Yaakov Neeman (Emil Salman)
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman Photo by Emil Salman
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Animal rights groups have complained about the Justice Ministry's choice of chairman of an interministerial committee that is to approve the members of the national animal-experimentation council. The council has come in for repeated criticism by the state comptroller over the years, in part because of those serving on it. The ministry recently announced that the panel that will oversee the membership of the council will be headed by Benjamin Rubin - the ministry's own representative on that council since it was established in 1995.

Animal rights groups have called on Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to rescind the appointment of Rubin, claiming there is a conflict of interest due to his membership on the council. The groups are also threatening legal action if their concerns are not addressed.

In a report published in May, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss listed what he saw as shortcomings in the functioning of the council on animal experimentation, including the proportion of members involved with animal experiments versus independent representatives. The report also took issue with the absence of outside, independent representatives on the internal university committees that supervise animal experiments at those institutions.

This year's report follows one in 2004 that also listed problems with the ministerial council.

A few months ago Knesset members Dov Khenin (Hadash ) and Eitan Cabel (Labor ) initiated legislation that would change the representation on the 23-member body. Specifically, the bill would require what would be a less biased membership, and states that the chairman should be a retired district court judge or Supreme Court justice. It would also expand the number of council members to 26, and increase representation of animal rights groups on it. The current council chairman, Prof. Ehud Ziv, a biochemist, is himself involved in animal experimentation.

The proposed law would also require that veterinarians serving on the council be represented on the university bodies that approve experimentation permits; at present, such permits are retroactively ratified by the council.

After the legislation was proposed, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided in June to convene the new inter-ministerial panel to examine the composition of membership on the animal experimentation oversight council.

The Justice Ministry's appointment of Rubin as chairman of the panel has raised the ire of animal rights groups because he has been serving on the council during the years in which the state comptroller has taken it to task for a range of organizational failings. (The panel also includes two members who do not serve on the animal experimentation oversight council, it should be noted. )

Animal rights groups have added that they expect Rubin to recommend that the composition of the council remain as it is.

For its part, the Justice Ministry said it is natural for Rubin to represent the ministry in light of his ongoing involvement in the field.