I won't deny that the color returned to my cheeks last week when I read in Barak Ravid’s “Could Netanyahu be turning vegan?” what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said about the treatment of animals. To put it another way, I was pleased to be proud of Bibi. I was totally fine with the fact that it wasn’t me who was responsible for his turnaround but Yuval Noah Harari's “A Brief History of Humankind.” That book showed the prime minister the light, according to Ravid’s story on last week's cabinet meeting.
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The issue is too important for me to worry about my prestige. The main thing is that Netanyahu got the message and put Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir in his place. Shamir came out of that meeting looking heartless. “You know what? Take your dogs and cats if you want,” he said when Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz demanded that the authority for enforcing the Animal Welfare Law be transferred to his ministry.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, said he understood from Harari’s book “that animals are more conscious than we thought, which is bothering me and making me think twice.” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni replied aptly, “Prime minister, hearing you say this is like finding an oasis in the desert.” I’m not sure statements like this have ever been made at the cabinet table.
In Sri Lanka, incidentally, a Buddhist monk immolated himself a few months ago to protest the slaughter of cows, and after several days of demonstrations and riots the government issued a blanket order prohibiting the eating of beef. But we're not a Buddhist country and the exchange Ravid reported on was indeed refreshing. The question is where things go from here.
Given that there seems to be bad blood between Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, and the premier no longer owes anything to that goose-fattener – who as agriculture minister did all he could to block legislation to prevent atrocities in the country’s barns and chicken coops – what’s there to stop Netanyahu from being a real reformer in animal welfare? After all, peace with the Arabs isn’t going to happen, so why don’t Livni and Netanyahu harness their futile efforts on talks with the Palestinians to a goal that would truly make us a light unto the nations? Why not make ourselves the champions of progress on an issue that enlightened people the world over take seriously?
It’s true that I’m mainly out for the animals that are being murdered and slaughtered, and whose abuse is the curse of the human race. But could there be a bigger benefit? I have no doubt that our support for animal rights will be raised when our other sins come up for debate. If Netanyahu can find a way to give one of his Bar-Ilan peace speeches on animal rights, he'll win support that wouldn't have come his way in his wildest dreams. He really has a great opportunity here, in the spirit of the times. The poor animals would benefit and so would he.
As always, a problem will arise when his advisers warn him that the Likud Central Committee won’t tolerate such talk. But you can’t be half a Churchill. Let him put all his strength and courage behind that “which is bothering me and making me think twice.” (And anyone who knows Netanyahu knows how rarely he admits to something like that.) And the hell with the Shamirs and Katzes.