Dead Cats and Rabbits on the Independence Day Barbecue

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Activists from 269Life take part in an protest piece whereby they drew their own blood to emphasize their ideology, in Tel Aviv, March 21, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Extreme action by advocates of animal rights opposed to eating meat is nothing new. After all, we’re talking about the folks who brought us “Holocaust on Your Plate” who regularly plaster gory photos of animals on signs, billboards and social media, and toss blood in fountains.

You might think that in today’s Middle East, there are enough problems involving the mistreatment of human being, that the forces of compassion would be too busy to focus intense energies on the suffering of animals. But in fact, the radical vegan movement has taken a strong hold in certain circles, and controversial international superstar activist Gary Yourofsky is wildly popular when he brought his message to Israel in 2012. Demonstrations by vegans holding signs of photos of mangled creatures have become a regular event in the streets of Tel Aviv.

But they went a giant step further on Tuesday – taking aim at a sacred national Independence Day tradition.

The action took place in Hayarkon Park, where hundreds of families who had filled up their cooler fired up their portable grills for holiday barbecues. Like July 4 in the United States, barbecues are a central activity for celebrating independence. But because a far smaller percentage of people in Israel live in single-family homes with large enough yards for their own private grill-fest, many families meet in public spaces and set up their grills to prepare for a meal known fondly in colloquial Hebrew as “al ha esh” - translation - “on the fire.”

That was the setting when members of the radical Yourofsky-esque group, founded a year and a half ago called 269life, set up their own barbecue grills in the middle of the activity. But instead of hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks or chicken on skewers – they laid whole corpses on the grill - cats, rabbits, and rats. They didn’t light the grills – the purpose was to display the dead animals.

Needless to say, the families around them who were barbecuing conventional style didn’t appreciate the action and were particularly furious that their children were being exposed to the sight of the dead animals. They demanded the activists leave. The activists refused and the situation became violent, the media reported, when the park revelers began screaming, throwing objects at them and destroying their display. Police arrived and arrested 13 of the protesters on suspicion of abusing the dead animals and disturbing the peace.

The activists have expressed outrage that they were the ones arrested and not the people who attacked them. In police custody, they were careful to explain that the animal corpses were taken from veterinarian offices, already dead.

It wasn’t not the first time the year and half old group has made use of dead animals for shock purposes and tangled with the law as a result – they’ve displayed dead chicks, chicken and cow heads in public places, and thrown blood into a public fountain.

But none of that behavior grabbed them as much public attention as bringing their message to the park on barbecue day, in what they say was an attempt to expose the horror of the “blood ritual” that, on Independence Day, denies freedom, independence and right to life of the creatures on the barbecue. After all, their spokespeople pointed out in the media, technically there’s no difference between what they did and what the folks around them were doing – a dead animal on the grill is a dead animal on the grill, whether or not he has been transformed into steak or a skewer.

One can’t deny that on a logical level, this makes sense. But it also makes sense that by choosing to publicly display dead animals in a crowd full of families and children (some accused them of encouraging children to look at the corpses they deny it) they damaged their credibility, which weakened their chances of winning hearts and minds to the vegan cause.

Their spokespeople have said they took the step because “desperate times demand desperate measures.”

But that really isn’t true. In fact, progress has been made in awakening the public consciousness that it would be better for our health, the environment and animal welfare if we ate less meat, the kind promulgated by foodie writer intellectuals Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. ‘Meatless Mondays’ have successfully penetrated the culture to the extent that even the Prime Minister - hardly a lefty radical - has endorsed the concept.

Whatever progress has been made hasn’t come through bloody shock and horror, but reasoned discussion. You’d think in the Middle East, the message would have penetrated that extremes only breed extremes. By using these tactics, I’m convinced that instead of winning converts to their cause, groups like 269life are only causing carnivores to cling more tightly to their barbecues.  

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