Israeli Ministers Move to Criminalize Cruelty to Animals

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Horses are among the animals that are often treated cruelty in Israel.Credit: AP

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a number of amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law, which broaden the responsibilities of animal owners and stress not only the issue of animal abuse but the obligation to tend to their health and needs.

The bill includes for the first time a section stating that causing suffering to animals, even if by negligence, is a criminal violation that carries a sentence of up to a year. Animal rights groups oppose specifying a sentence, explaining that until now such violations were prosecuted under the general ban on animal abuse, which carries a sentence of up to three years.

The amendment increases the sentence of someone who causes serious suffering to animals from three to four years. It also imposes criminal responsibility on companies that own animals or are responsible for them, making it possible to prosecute senior executives. This section is particularly relevant given the abuse recently revealed in the meat industry. Another section states that a court can forbid anyone who violates the law from breeding or owning animals for any period of time it determines.

These amendments were drawn up by the Agriculture Ministry, which is responsible for enforcing the law. Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) submitted the bill to the ministerial committee. Religious Services Minister David Azoulay (Shas) was the only opponent. His opposition stemmed from the demand of Shas chairman Economy Minister Arye Dery that the law state that the authority for importing animals would not be solely in the hands of the agriculture minister, but would require the approval of the economy minister as well.

The Economy Ministry explained that it does not oppose the amendments, but only the issue of the authority to import animals. The ministry warned that another minister may not consider issues relating to international trade agreements and might undermine the relationships with other countries. Dery also wanted to be involved in the decisions because they are liable to have an effect on the cost of living.

Ariel visited the Let the Animals Live shelter at Kfar Ruth Sunday and met with the heads of the organization. He promised to maintain regular contact with representatives of the animal rights organizations.

In the last Knesset there was a proposal to move the authority for enforcing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law from the Agriculture Ministry to the Environmental Protection Ministry, with proponents arguing that the Agriculture Ministry has a conflict of interest in that it prefers the interests of farmers over animal rights.

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