Could Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be on the way to becoming vegan, or will we at least see him attend Gary Yourofsky's next lecture in Israel? This question was on the minds of several ministers after hearing Netanyahu's long monologue on his positions regarding animal rights at the weekly cabinet session on Sunday.
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Part of the cabinet meeting was devoted to a survey of Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir's work in the field. At the meeting, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz asked to have the authorities to enforce animal rights laws to his ministry.
Two officials that participated in the cabinet meeting relayed the surprising development that Netanyahu instructed Harel Locker, the director-general of his office and the Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit to look into Peretz's suggestion.
The following is the dialogue that took place at the Cabinet meeting:
Peretz: "There is currently a conflict of interests. Leaving it under the authority of the Agriculture Ministry creates a conflict of interests – as the entity responsible for the economic framework for raising animals is also responsible for their conditions and treatment.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni: "That's a great idea."
Shamir: "It makes no sense."
Livni: "You deal with animals that don't have any connection to agriculture."
Shamir: "You know what? Take your dogs and cats if you want."
Netanyahu: "I read the book 'A Brief History of Humankind' by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari and understood that animals are more conscious than we thought, which is bothering me and making me think twice."
Livni: "Prime Minister, hearing you say this is like finding an oasis in the desert."
Shamir: "That book has an agenda."
Livni: "It's not a book with an agenda on this specific topic."
Shamir: "I'll give you a book with a converse agenda."
Livni: "I'll give you Jonathan Safran Foer's book, which strengthens this insight."
Netanyahu (turning to cabinet secretary): "Check if there is a need to change the existing order. This is not just organizational, it's broader."
The positions conveyed by Livni and Peretz is not surprising. Livni has been a vegetarian since age 13 for ideological reasons. When the vegan guru Gary Yourofksy visited Israel in September last year, she was at his lecture.
Peretz has in the past voted several times in favor of bills designated to protect animal rights. Last September he called for the end to the slaughter of chickens as part of the kapparot Yom Kippur ritual.
Also a few months ago, Peretz participated in a night operation to resettle turtles into the sea.
As for Netanyahu, the matter of animal rights was never a cause he advocated. In fact, I had a hard time finding any other expressions by him on the matter. However, the issue Peretz raised is not new for him. In June of last year, Netanyahu received a letter from the president of Israel's national academic of sciences, Prof. Ruth Arnon.
The letter was sent to Netanyahu while he was serving as health minister, and addresses the issue of supervision over animal breeding farms where experiments are carried out. In the letter, the professor called on Netanyahu not to pass responsibility for the issue to the Environment Protection Ministry, since it would hurt Israel's capabilities in scientific development.
It's unclear whether the prime minister's words will bring about real change, but the dialogue on Sunday exposed a new fact about Netanyahu we didn't know.