Israel's AG to Instruct Prosecutors to Ask for Jail Terms for Convicted Animal Abusers

Committee finds threshold of punishment meted out much lower than maximum three-year prison sentence allowed by law against.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein will instruct prosecutors to ask for jail terms for convicted animal abusers. Weinstein's decision is in keeping with the recommendations of a committee he established last year to study penalties and means of enforcement in cases of cruelty to animals.

He informed the State Prosecutor's Office, the police, and the ministries of environmental protection and agriculture of his decision on Sunday.

The committee found that the threshold of punishment meted out in such cases is much lower than the maximum three-year prison sentence allowed by the law against cruelty to animals. The panel recommended that Weinstein instruct prosecutors to ask the court to require at least some jail time and to impose a heavy fine, which would be donated to a fund for animal protection.

However, the attorney general rejected a recommendation to initiate an amendment to the law on cruelty to animals by adding another category - aggravated cruelty - which would carry a minimum sentence of five years behind bars. He said he would examine the possibility of increasing fines for cruelty to animals.

There are difficulties in collecting evidence of cruelty to animals because of the unwillingness of witnesses to assist the authorities, the committee found. One reason for this, the panel concluded, is that people do not believe their testimony will be taken seriously.

The panel also warned that the large number of agencies involved in such cases led to some of them falling between the cracks, and Weinstein accepted its recommendation that a joint forum be established to deal with these offenses. The forum would consist of the prosecution, the police and the ministries of environmental protection and agriculture.

Among the other recommendations Weinstein accepted was to involve city police in efforts to prevent cruelty to animals, and to make sure that convictions are reported in the media as a deterrent.

"Cruelty to animals is the same as cruelty to the helpless and the defenseless. A society that holds high the banner of morality and fairness cannot accept such offenses. It must do everything it can to prevent them," Weinstein wrote the agencies in informing them of his decision.

The committee that made the recommendations was headed by Irin Inbar-Eisenger of the Haifa district prosecutor's office. Its members included police Chief Superintendent Haim Feldman from the police's environmental protection section, Efrat Aviani, from the legal department of the Agriculture Ministry and Gali Davidson, head of animal protection in the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Eisenger said that the committee's recommendations included a variety of actions. "In many cases the public does not even know these are criminal offenses."

Animal rights groups have recently expressed satisfaction with a number of opinions the attorney general has submitted to the courts. In the case of a petition by universities in Israel against El Al Airlines, Weinstein determined that an airline cannot be forced to fly animals domestically or abroad for experimentation. And in a petition of Let the Animals Live against the Mazor Farm, Weinstein opposed sending more than 90 monkeys trapped in the wild for experimentation in the United States.