Israel Is Warming Up to Fur - and Animal Rights Activists Are Livid

The Shenkar art college has created a course for working with leather and furs; anti-fur campaigners accuse the school of going backwards.

Ruth Perl Baharir
Ruth Perl Baharir
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Model Kendall Jenner wears a creation for Christian Dior's Fall-winter 2016-2017.
Ruth Perl Baharir
Ruth Perl Baharir

Last week, after years of battles by animal rights organizations, Italian designer Giorgio Armani announced he would stop using fur in all his brands. In a statement, Armani explained that technological progress “allows us to have valid alternatives at our disposal that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary as regards animals.”

Armani’s fur-free announcement is especially important considering the last fashion month, which ended only a few weeks ago, was filled with coats, scarves, vests and adornments stitched out of the controversial raw material. Almost all the big names, including Miu Miu, Gucci and Fendi, took part in the trend, which included even goods that had no real need to be made with fur, such as Fendi’s bag charms, which supermodel Kendall Jenner always carries around on her bag.

Only a few years ago it looked as if the salvation would come from Israel, which was about to make history and become the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur. But not only did this legislative initiative fall short, now an even more negative step is developing: Last semester, a new course opened in working with leather and furs at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design; and this month a third-year student at Shenkar, Daniel Kohavi, won Gold Award in the prestigious Remix contest in Milan, sponsored by the International Fur Federation. The designs that won Kohavi her first place prize – a mini-collection comprised of long dresses and coats – were sewn from white fur and chiffon, combined with various inserts and gilded decoration.

Kohavi will soon start her internship at a fur company in Copenhagen as part of her prize, and in April the Italian edition of Vogue will present her work. And as for the ethical aspect of working with fur – she is not interested in talking about it.

Daniel Kohavi’s winning designs.Credit: Leah Peretz

Leah Peretz, the head of the fashion design department at Shenkar, says the new course has not met with any opposition from students. In fact, the students were actually curious to learn to work with these materials, she said. “There was a stage at which they asked questions about the moral aspect of the work with fur, and then a mature discussion developed in the class,” said Peretz.

The proposed law to ban the sale of furs was brought up seven years ago by then-MK Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz, but did not pass. In 2010, then-MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) tried again and the law passed its first reading in the Knesset. But a short time later, Tirosh was surprised when the Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted against the bill – at the instruction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

An investigative report broadcast last year on Channel 1 claimed the Danish fur corporation Kopenhagen Fur stood behind Netanyahu’s decision. Even though the profits from fur exports to Israel are tiny as far as the company is concerned, the fear was that precedent-setting legislation would open the floodgates for legislation all over the world.

“After being the leaders in the field, suddenly Shenkar comes and takes everything 30 steps backwards,” says Jane Halevy Moreno, the founder of the International Anti-Fur Coalition.

“It’s not just disappointment, it’s shock. How can such a progressive school, which is a real symbol in Israel, take such a step? People think ahead, and in Shenkar they are going backwards. There are clothing importers who no longer bring furs to Israel because they know it is a matter of time until the legislation passes. Why do they want to return to prehistory?”

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