Ban to take effect––if it ever does––six months after Netanyahu government leaves office
JERUSALEM, Israel––Israeli environmental protection minister Gila Gamliel, appointed on May 17, 2020 by “lame duck” prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on June 9, 2021 capped her year in office by signing a regulatory amendment that bans the sale of fur by the fashion industry in six months.
Animal advocacy groups lost no time in issuing declarations of “VICTORY!”, as World Animal News headlined, but animal advocates concerned about actual results might refrain from throwing their cloth caps into the air in celebration.
The six months will expire three days after the end of the 2021 Hanukkah giving season––Hanukkah runs from November 28 to December 6 this year––and chances appear to be small that the fur sale ban will remain pending for even that long.
The Netanyahu government, ruling Israel since 2009, will leave office on June 13, 2021. Leaving office with Netanyahu will be Gamliel, who has previously served Netanyahu governments as deputy minister for agriculture (2005-2006), deputy minister for the advancement of young people, students, and women (2009-2013), and minister for social equality (2015-2019).
Replacing the Netanyahu government will be an eight-party coalition, whose sole unifying principle appears to be profound antipathy toward anything and everything Netanyahu and his ministerial appointees ever stood for.
Gamliel, at age 37, may yet make a political comeback. So might Netanyahu, 71, who was previously prime minister from 1996 to 1999. They may yet, at some point, be able to ban the fur fashion trade and make the edict stick.
For now, though, the Gamliel-pronounced fur sales ban appears likely to be short-lived and strictly symbolic, as Gamliel and Netanyahu move to the opposition side of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
But even if the fur sales ban survives the change of government, it likely will not mean very much, either for fur-bearing animals or the economic structure of the Israeli fur trade.
Explained Jerusalem Post reporter Aaron Reich, “Back in October 2020, when the plans [to ban fur garment sales] were first announced by Gamliel, it was made clear that future permits for the fur trade would still be given out, but only in certain cases. These permits are issued by the Nature & Parks Authority, but these new criteria would limit them to being given out only for ‘scientific research, education, for instruction and religious purposes and tradition.’
“The latter category,” Reich observed, “has the potential to be particularly contentious due to the role fur plays in the traditions of haredi Jews, who often wear fur hats called shtreimels, though it is possible that they will get an exception.”
Few fur coat customers in Israel
The haredi are a traditionally conservative branch of Judaism with eastern European cultural roots, whose largest and best-known branch are the Hassidim, or Hassidic Jewish community, maintaining a significant presence in the New York City area and other parts of the U.S., as well as in Israel.
The sale of shtreimels, at $1,000 and up apiece, reportedly accounts for about 90% of the total Israeli fur trade, which amounts to less than $1 million a year of the $11 billion a year global fur sales industry.
Because of the hot Israeli climate, fur is rarely worn in Israel except by the haredi, and only four boutiques, all in Tel Aviv, were known to sell fur fashion garments as of 2010. Whether any Israeli stores still sell fur fashion garments is unknown.
Nonetheless, among the Israeli animal advocacy organizations issuing “victory!” proclamations were Animals Now, claiming the Gamliel ban will “save countless animals from the hell of the fur industry”; Let The Animals Live; and the International Anti-Fur Coalition.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also jumped on the dreidel-and-shofar wagon, while the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society International did earlier, when Gamliel posted to Facebook in October 2020 that “an important move I initiated is on its way to being implemented; the ban on the fur trade in Israel.”
Whetting skepticism that the Gamliel ban will survive long is that this whole drama played out previously during the first year of the now exiting Netanyahu government.
“Deja vu all over again”
In February 2010 most of the same players declared “Victory!” when the Israeli ministerial committee for legislative affairs unanimously approved an expansion of a bill introduced in 2009 by Knesset member Ronit Tirosh, which in original form banned selling cat and dog fur.
The expanded bill would have banned the sale of all fur garments except shtreimels.
After the February 2010 round of “Victory!” declarations, a second round of similar followed when the bill cleared the Knesset on second reading in July 2010.
But a third and final reading and vote of approval was required for the fur garment sales ban to take effect.
That reading and vote never came.
Canadian lobby swayed Israeli government?
Alleged International Anti-Fur Coalition founder Jane Halevy at the time, “The cause of the delay is the desperate scare tactics of the Canadian-led pro-fur lobby. The pro-fur delegates tried to threaten the Israeli government that they could claim for loss of income compensation, and that the ban could not be enforced.
“In another attempted fear tactic,” Halevy said, “the pro-fur delegates then tried to employ the exemption in the bill for the fur hats worn by a minority of the Hassidic culture, claiming this could awaken anti-Semitism.
And that was that, for another 10 years, even after actress Pamela Anderson spent her January 2014 honeymoon in Israel, trying to revive the proposed ban that never actually came before the Knesset for final approval.