Pelt Diplomacy

In bid to keep ties with key trade allies warm, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer wants fur imports kept legal

Yuval Azoulay
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Yuval Azoulay

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is threatening to sabotage the bill banning fur imports, following pressure from foreign ambassadors.

Ben-Eliezer said the bill would damage Israel's trade ties with many countries and could cause a diplomatic crisis: Some states fear that Israel's far-reaching legislation would make other countries follow its lead.

Earlier this year the Ministerial Committee for Legislation adopted a bill banning fur production, and the importing and exporting of fur from all animals except cattle, camels and sheep, whose skins are a by-product of the meat industry.

At Ben-Eliezer's request, the head of the Knesset's Education Committee, MK Zevulun Orlev, agreed to put off the debate to prepare the bill for second and third readings due next week.

The bill, initially drafted by MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima ), minimizes cruelty to animals that are slaughtered for their fur. At first the ultra-Orthodox parties objected to it, claiming it would prevent their voters from buying imported shtreimel hats, which are made of furs such as sable or fox.

Fearing an ultra-Orthodox veto, Tirosh and Israeli members of the International Anti-Fur Coalition agreed to make an exception for fox furs.

It turned out yesterday that Denmark and Canada's ambassadors have intervened to foil the bill. Danish ambassador Lisselotte Plesner, whose husband is MK Yohanan Plesner's cousin, has asked the MK to block the legislation.

Plesner (Kadima ) told Haaretz yesterday the bill could damage Israel's trade ties with "our best friends, and we don't have many."

Apparently Ben-Eliezer got cold feet after the ministry's foreign trade director, Boaz Hirsch, told him that Canada, Denmark, Finland, Greece and the United States object to it, a source close to the minister said.

Israel's fur trade is very small, but the bill could set a precedent that other countries would follow. This would damage the fur trade in North America and Scandinavia, Hirsch wrote Ben-Eliezer.

"The bill is meaningless, anyway, after the exception for fox furs for ultra-Orthodox men's hats was made," an aide to the minister said. "So Tirosh will get a headline and a few moments of glory, while we get stuck with spoiled trade ties."

An activist of the International Anti-Fur Coalition said yesterday that Israel's fur trade averages around $600,000 annually. "Those countries are afraid the publicity would get additional countries to legislate such laws, as many already have done," an activist said.

Italy, Britain, Austria and Switzerland prohibit raising animals for fur; Russia and the United States ban commercial seal hunting and Denmark and Sweden ban the raising of foxes for fur.

Lisselotte PlesnerCredit: Alon Ron