Israel's Fur Ban Doesn't Include Its Main Buyers: Haredi Men

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A Haredi man wearing a fur hat known as a shtreimel, in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem.

More than three decades after the world was horrified by the “Dumb Animals” ad featuring streams of blood spurting from fur coats to the strains of Vangelis, Israel is leaping to the forefront of the battle by imposing the world’s first blanket ban on the fur trade.

In general the world fashion industry seems to have painfully absorbed the message. “Fur? I’m out of that. I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right,” Donatella Versace, creative director of the Italian fashion giant that bears her deceased brother’s name, states on the company website. Major fashion labels such as Calvin Klein, Armani, Burberry, Gucci, Chanel and Victoria Beckham have been removing real fur from their collections. The latest to join the trend was designer Miuccia Prada, whose company stopped selling fur this year. But legislation has lagged behind.

The regulation proposed by Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel (which is at the stage of awaiting public comment) made headlines around the world. “The fur industry causes hundreds of millions of animals around the world to be killed each year, and entails indescribable cruelty and suffering,” Gamliel stated. “Using the skin and pelts of wild animals in fashion is immoral.”

As things stand, Israeli businesses can trade in fur after obtaining permits from the Nature and Parks Authority. The drive to outlaw the fur trade in Israel has been building for years, but it is on Gamliel’s watch that the Wildlife Protection Law is finally being amended, prohibiting the nature authority from issuing pelt-trading permits.

In spirit, the amendment is well and good. The cruelty to which animals are subjected for the sake of “haute couture” is incalculable and obscene. But in practice, Gamliel’s revolution has a giant loophole.

Israel is a hot country and we don’t have a fur industry because we don’t need one, with one exception – the ultra-Orthodox community. Many Haredi men wear fur top-hats called shtreimels, though the woke among them these days wear hats made of faux fur.

Gamliel, who was embarrassingly caught violating the lockdown to visit a distant synagogue last week, ruled that the ban won’t apply “if the fur or product is to be used for the purposes of religion or religious tradition, scientific research, education or instruction.” In fact the shtreimel has no place in the Jewish religion, which is why the draft proposal refers to “religious tradition.”

If anything Gamliel’s decision created additional moral escape-hatches: She could have eschewed the exemption and the outliers, too, could have been persuaded to adopt fake fur. Allowing the fur trade to continue in Haredi circles merely adds another layer to the community’s deliberate separation of itself from other Israelis. It is a sad parallel to the flagrant disregard of the coronavirus regulations by many in the ultra-Orthodox community, something that the minister herself knows a thing or two about.

The ultra-Orthodox exemption would made her look like an empress wearing new fur clothes, except for two things: Former MK Ronit Tirosh tried to legislate a ban in 2009 and got defeated by a coalition led by the Danish company Kopenhagen Fur, aided by the Danish embassy to Israel and the lobbying forum Gilad. Yet, showing courage and conviction, Gamliel forged ahead despite the pressures she has faced and will face. She is leading Israel towards becoming the first government in the world to prohibit trading in fur, thereby hopefully starting a snowball effect.

The headlines around the world about Israel’s precedent in banning the fur trade will definitely boost animal rights organizations and likely influence other governments, which won’t want to be accused of staying in the dark ages while Israel shines a light unto the nations. Gamliel may yet wind up saving more minks, otters and foxes than Versace, Gucci and Chanel put together.

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