Vegans for (And Against) the Occupation

Those promoting a vegan diet deserve congratulation for various reasons. But those enlisting it as a conscience-cleaning device to help hide their role in perpetuating the suffering of others do not.

Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross
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Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross

There are many reasons for becoming a vegan, and the growing awareness of veganism’s advantages is surely a welcome development. First of all, an increase in the number of people who decide to go vegan means less cruelty to animals and a lowered incentive for killing them. Second, a vegan diet is healthy not just for the individual but also for the planet as a whole.

It should be stressed that there is no contradiction between concern for animals and concern for human life. Quite the contrary, opposition to the suppression of human beings easily dovetails with opposition to the suppression of animals; in both cases, one is expressing an overall sensitivity to the oppression and suffering of the Other and to the exploitation of the weak.

However, two very different kinds of discourse regarding veganism must be rejected. First, there is the anti-veganism discourse that features a growing criticism of vegans. One expression of that attitude is the demand, “Don’t get into my plate.” However, that kind of argument makes as much sense as angrily confronting those who consider rape a forbidden act with the statement, “Don’t get into my bedroom,” or as much sense as angrily confronting those who oppose women and child abuse with “Don’t stick your nose into my family’s business.”

The second form of discourse, which tries to appropriate veganism to serve goals that have nothing to do with veganism, is just as infuriating. For example, Eyal Megged has recently (“Back Bibi on animal rights – and help Israel to boot,” Haaretz, October 21) called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to champion animal rights as a default option. “[W]hat’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?” Netanyahu apparently likes the idea: This week he announced his support for the Meatless Monday project and noted that he and his family are very sensitive to the issue of cruelty to animals.

Megged is certainly to be congratulated for opting for veganism; however, his proposal that Israel focus on improving attitudes toward animals instead of on advancing the peace talks with the Palestinians could perhaps lead one to suspect that there are many people in Israel whose sensitivity to the suffering animals compensates for a lack of sensitivity toward certain groups of human beings – especially the Palestinians, on whom Israel inflicts much suffering.

More and more restaurants and coffee shops are catering to the needs of vegetarians and vegans; moreover, the local media are showcasing this development. While this trend must be welcomed, one must not ignore the gap that exists between increased support for veganism and the ever-growing indifference in Israeli society to the oppression and exploitation inherent in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

This state of affairs is graphically illustrated by the suggestion that Netanyahu utilize protection of animal rights to present Israel as the torchbearer of progress, because peace with the Arabs (a euphemism for the end of the Israeli occupation) can never be achieved. It is also illustrated by a public relations campaign being mounted by the Israel Defense Forces to show how veganism-friendly the IDF has become. Pinkwashing: out. Veganwashing: In.

When veganism becomes a tool to improve the IDF’s image, or that of Israel as a whole – which is what Megged suggests – and when attempts are being made to cover up the fact that the IDF operates an occupation mechanism that denies people their basic human rights, veganism is being appropriated for propaganda purposes. In Tel Aviv today, it is far easier to find food whose preparation has not involved the exploitation of animals than to find food whose production has not entailed the oppression and uprooting of other human beings.

It should be emphasized that there are many vegans who are strongly opposed to any form of oppression. For such individuals, veganism is not a substitute for struggling against the oppression of other human beings, but instead is part and parcel of that struggle. However, when one looks at veganism as a social phenomenon in Israel circa 2013 and welcomes the growing number of vegans in this country, one must also be highly critical of those who use veganism as a device to clear the consciences of those who are oblivious to the suffering of other human beings. The conclusion to be drawn from this observation is not to abstain from veganism, but rather to appropriate it as yet another element in the general struggle against oppression – of any kind.

Vegetarian cholent.

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