Animal Abusers Safe From Penalty in Israel

Israeli animals are protected by law but the enforcer is nowhere to be seen, says Environment Ministry.

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

Almost none of the fines levied on animal abusers end up being deposited into a special animal welfare fund, even though this is mandated by law. The Agriculture Ministry says this is because most of the fines are never collected in the first place.

In 2013, for instance, the government levied fines totaling 933,450 shekels ($268,400) on 225 people found guilty of violating the Cruelty to Animals Law, according to figures the ministry released three months ago in honor of Animal Rights Day. But it turns out that only 43,000 shekels reached the fund that year − a mere 4.6 percent of the total fines levied.

In 2012, the fund received only 13,000 shekels in fines.

The Animal Welfare Fund was created 20 years ago as one of the provisions of the Cruelty to Animals Law. Its purpose, according to the law, is to finance educational campaigns, assist animal welfare groups and otherwise promote the law’s goals. The fund is run by the Environmental Protection Ministry and headed by an employee of that ministry.

In addition to fines, the fund has three other sources of income: the Finance Ministry, the Environmental Protection Ministry and donations. In practice, most of its money comes from the latter two.

Most of the fund’s income is given to animal welfare groups and municipal pounds, some of which would have trouble staying open without it. According to its current chairwoman, Gali Davidson, the fund gives about three million shekels a year to animal-welfare groups and up to 1.5 million shekels to pounds. It spends another 700,000 shekels or so on educational activities, plus 1,000 shekels for every animal rescued.

“In principle, the fund is supposed to be a self-supporting system,” she said. “In practice, revenues are negligible compared to expenses.”

Davidson, who also heads the Environmental Protection Ministry’s animal welfare department, said she cannot understand why only a tiny fraction of the levied fines make their way to her fund. “I’m left here with one big question − where is the money?”

The Agriculture Ministry, which is responsible for enforcing the Cruelty to Animals Law, said the problem is the very low collection rate. The blame for that, it added, rests with the Enforcement and Collection Authority.

Nevertheless, the ministry insisted that enforcement efforts have been stepped up markedly in recent years. It also said it spends millions of shekels from its own budget on animal welfare, including spaying and neutering, building clinics, upgrading pounds and rescuing and rehabilitating horses and donkeys. Last year, the ministry noted, it inspected 249 farms and other sites where animals are kept, opened 80 investigations and filed 23 indictments for violations of the Cruelty to Animals Law.

But both animal welfare groups and the Environmental Protection Ministry are critical of the Agriculture Ministry’s efforts. The ministry has a built-in conflict of interests, they say, and usually prefers the farmers’ interests to those of the animals. They also accuse it of dragging its feet on issuing regulations under the Cruelty to Animals Law and of lax enforcement.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said the obvious solution to the problem is to transfer responsibility for enforcing the Cruelty to Animals Law to his ministry. Animal welfare groups have long supported this idea, and seven months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set up a panel headed by Harel Locker, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, to look into the issue. So far, the Locker Committee has met only twice, but it is expected to issue its recommendations in the coming weeks.

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