Brigitte Bardot is not a frequent lobbyist in the Israeli parliament, so her three consecutive letters to Knesset members, urging them to approve an all-out ban on the fur trade in Israel, seem to have left their mark. “All the world’s eyes are turned towards you”, wrote the French animal rights activist and former actress, adding flatteringly: “I am personally counting on your help”.
Bardot’s foundation is just one of many international animal rights organisations watching closely as Israel prepares to pass a bill that would make it the first fur-free country in the world.
Already hailed as “an historic event”, the bill will ban importing, producing and selling of fur and fur items from all mammals, except for fur on shtreimels, the fur-trimmed hats worn by married ultra-orthodox Hassidic Jewish men. While each of those hats is made of no less than 24 fox tails, their wearers number only a few thousand.
Most Israelis find fur items unsuitable for the Mediterranean climate, and according to Eti Altman, who spearheaded the efforts to enact the new law, “the fur industry in Israel is worth only $1-2m [€730,000-€1.4m] annually”. Still, when she conducted a recent poll on behalf of the NGO she co-founded “Let the Animals Live”, she discovered that 86 per cent of the population believe that killing animals for their fur is immoral.
A TV documentary broadcast last year on Israel’s channel 10 raised people’s awareness to the suffering of animals. The programme also revealed that some clothing articles, which were sold by leading Israeli brands as made of synthetic fur, were actually made of dog and rabbit fur. The outcry following the broadcast prompted two members of the Knesset to propose the new law. Despite the fact that a ban in Israel would have little impact on the economy, it is still fraught with tension because of the symbolism of the decision. A vote planned earlier this week was aborted at the last minute.
“Israel can afford to be a pioneer, as its economy will hardly feel it but for the world it’s an important message,” says Jane Halevy, head of the International Anti-Fur Coalition, an umbrella organisation of more than 60 anti-fur organisations worldwide.
The global fur trade, according to Halevy, is worth $16bn (€11.7bn) annually (with China and Russia as the biggest consumers), and one of the main reasons why Israel is leading the way is that there are almost no economic interests involved. The only question that remains is whether this precedent can outweigh other considerations even where more money is at stake.