Denmark, Israel and the Deathly Stench of Fur

From 2009-2014, the world’s major fur associations - Denmark makes about $2 billion a year from the industry - waged an expensive battle to quash the Knesset bill to ban the trade of mink and fox skins in Israel.

Orna Rinat
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A woman tries on a fur coat at the World of Fur and Leather store in Moscow, Russia. Credit: Bloomberg
Orna Rinat

The bill to ban the fur trade in Israel had clear majority support in the Knesset and gained early government approval. In 2009, it passed its first reading after its author, then-Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, inserted an exception for the ultra-Orthodox, who apparently feared that God would take it as an insult if they wore hats made of synthetic fur rather than a dead fox.

But then strange things began to happen, as documented in the fascinating investigative report by Tomer Avital and Tal Michael that was presented on the Mabat Sheni television program last week. The Danish fur cooperative, Kopenhagen Fur, got nervous, as the law, which would make Israel the first country in the world to ban the fur trade, was receiving widespread international coverage.

From 2009-2014, the world’s major fur associations – the Danish fur industry rakes in up to $2 billion in annual profits – waged an expensive battle to quash the bill. The International Fur Trade Federation hired the Gilad Government Relations & Lobbying firm and literally bought the help of the Danish embassy, which explained to MKs and ministers the terrible danger posed by the bill. The indefatigable Jane Halevy, founder of the International Anti-Fur Coalition, received threats from hunters saying they would skin her. In 2010, when the Knesset was close to approving the bill, the Danish foreign minister wrote to the Israeli Foreign Ministry that the bill was opposed to Denmark’s interests. The government approved the bill nonetheless.

And then the Danes resorted to the ultimate weapon. In 2011-2012, several MKs known for their remarkable moral backbone were invited on a fun trip: a fur safari. To ensure that nothing would affect their fair judgment, they were accompanied by people from the lobbying firm hired by the fur industry. The Knesset Ethics Committee was told that the visits were at the invitation of the Jewish community. There was no mention of the fact that they were paid for by the Danish fur industry.

And so Faina Kirshenbaum of Yisrael Beitenu, former Finance Committee chairman Carmel Shama Hacohen of Likud, Eliezer Menachem Moses of United Torah Judaism and Amnon Cohen (formerly of Shas) flew to Denmark, stayed in luxury hotels, attended fashion shows – and were invited to see where those expensive coats originated: the farms where the minks and foxes are skinned.

The MKs surely got to appreciate the natural beauty all around them – dense forests, grassy lawns, chirping birds, and the bonus: getting to observe the animals in their habitat, as documented by the Danish animal rights organization Anima in 2009, and in 2012 by the photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, (neither of whom received an invitation from fur manufacturers). Row upon row of tiny, wire cages from whence come deafening shrieks and wails of every possible variation, from pitiful whimpers to the earsplitting screams, and one insistent high-pitched squeal seems to stand out from all the rest, greeting all who arrive and remaining with them when they leave, so bloodcurdling in its absolute loneliness, as if it were the first and last cry in the whole world.

Eyes that were glazed fill with terror, and those who lay curled up like babies on the floor of the cage spring to life: They try to escape, start to desperately claw at the steel wire that is trapping their feet, the fear sometimes makes their bowels loosen. They rear up on their hind legs, searching for nonexistent exits. One cub ceaselessly licks his mother’s face in an effort to draw her attention, but she can’t pull her tense, big-eyed gaze off the visitors, and only gives him a few distracted licks for his trouble.

Many of the animals are injured or blind. They were born in November, and by May their lives will be over. The cages are overcrowded, which leads to bites, diseases and infections. Some animals have their innards exposed, others have nothing but a puss-filled wound where one eye should be while the remaining eye has gone blind, and they keep tilting their heads this way and that in a desperate attempt to see.

And amid all this, suddenly a beautiful cub with white fur appears – It has round eyes and a pink nose and a face as yet unaltered by fear and suffering, and it gazes into the camera with quiet curiosity. A few weeks later, when they come to take it to the killing rooms and electrocute it, fear will extinguish that curious gaze and make its body excrete feces and urine, and the whole six months of its life – the licks from its mother and the warmth of her body, the loneliness of the final desperate wail, and that one moment of mercy when the photographer looked into its eyes and sighed heavily, “Oh baby,” will be reduced to luxury goods in the opulent shops of Kopenhagen Fur.

The furs are assiduously cleaned so the stench of death won’t permeate the fashion shows put on by the fur industry. And it’s the politicians who serve it who are responsible for trying to cover up the stench of greed: Shama Hacohen and Moses, who discovered during their pleasure trip to Denmark that opponents of the fur industry are really anti-Semites; the Foreign Ministry under Avigdor Lieberman, which informed the MKs that a paper from the National Security Council says the law would endanger Israel as well as the acclaimed democracy of Denmark, which managed to thwart a bill in the parliament of another supposedly democratic country.

In December 2013, just before the bill was brought to a vote, the prime minister instructed the coalition members to vote against. The International Anti-Fur Coalition headed by Halevy, which together with Anonymous for Animal Rights and Let The Animals Live, led the animal rights organizations’ battle on behalf of the bill, saw that it wouldn’t pass, and MK Ruth Calderon, who brought up the bill (Tirosh was no longer in the Knesset), withdrew it.

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