Haredi Lobby Pressures Gov't Into Scrapping Animal Fur Ban

The Knesset this week moved to scrap a bill that would ban fur, amid pressure from leading Canadian furriers who lobbied here with local ultra-Orthodox leaders against the precedent-setting legislation, Haaretz has learned.

The leader of Israel's anti-fur lobby, an immigrant from France, reacted by saying that by scrapping the bill - which would have made Israel the first nation to outlaw the fur industry - Jerusalem "missed a chance" to win liberal minds in the West. Lobby members have vowed to launch a campaign to revitalize the legislation.

The decision to shelve the proposed legislation came at the end of a discussion by the coalition's coordinating body, presided over by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi). He said he "personally supports" the bill, but cannot promote it because of opposition by MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism), a coalition member.

"I have no interest in offending the Haredi public," Orlev said.

The bill sought to ban trading, producing and processing fur in Israel except for religious purposes - a stipulation designed to accommodate the needs of the Haredi community, some of whom traditionally wear sable on their hats.

Moses opposed the bill despite the exception, explaining it could affect kosher slaughter abroad. Shas also opposed it.

"I'm pleased to see that common sense has prevailed," Alan Herscovici, executive vice president of the Fur Council of Canada, told Anglo File after his whirlwind visit to Israel last week, in which he lobbied against the bill.

"This ban would have very little impact on Israel's own economy," the Canadian trade union leader said, "but would have had grave ramifications elsewhere."

The scrapped bill already passed its first of three readings in the Knesset prior to Herscovici's visit, triggering no vocal opposition from ultra-Orthodox Knesset members.

Herscovici, who is Jewish, said he came to Israel with another colleague from Canada because he was concerned the Knesset "might find the bill to be an easy cookie," adding: "It might be easy to pass laws when the people you're hurting live far away and don't vote in your country."

Canada's Ministry of International Trade last month sent its Israeli counterpart a letter warning against the fur bill and expressing concern that it might prejudice Canadian fur trade interests or World Trade Organization obligations. It also stressed Canada and Israel's long-standing relations and shared democratic values and commitment to free trade.

According to the International Anti-Fur Coalition - an umbrella organization of groups in 60 countries - Israel has a tiny $500,000 share in the world's $16 billion annual fur industry.

The figures for Israel include synthetic fur. Canada - where Jews made up nearly half of those involved in the fur trade in the 1930s - is one of the leading countries in the field, with annual sales of roughly $500 million.

The Israeli fur bill, Herscovici said, was being promoted here by non-Israeli pressure groups "because it's easier to push through here" by people who "are hoping to throw it back to other countries as a precedent."

But Israel "should be the last to proceed with this kind of legislation," Herscovici said, because Israel "is being demonized and delegitimized in the West in the same way that the fur industry is being demonized - and often by the same people and circles."

The founder of the International Anti-Fur Coalition, Jane Halevy, who immigrated to Israel from France 19 years ago, says the International Fur Trade Federation concedes that people who support banning may be more politically critical of Israel than people who support the fur trade or are indifferent to it.

However, she adds that this instance presents Israel with a rare opportunity to make headway with exactly those circles by leading the way in banning fur.

Herscovici - whose father chaired both the Fur Council of Canada and the country's United Jewish Appeal - said Israeli support for banning fur would end up hurting many Jews in Canada and elsewhere. "It'd make it harder to oppose attempts to ban kosher slaughter in the West," he said.

Over the past few weeks Halevy has used her contacts with European celebrities and politicians who congratulated the Knesset for considering the bill and urged the parliament to continue the process.

Moses, of United Torah Judaism, says he met with Herscovici several times on the latter's visit to Israel. He says that he has become convinced that the same organizations fighting fur are also fighting kosher slaughter, believed by some to be inhumane.

Moreover, he says he is concerned that "Israel is being used as the stage for an international struggle." His research into the issue, he says, shows that 70 percent of fur consumption in Israel is for the Haredi community. "It therefore makes no sense to make an exception to a rule," he said.