Two months ago, it looked like Israel would be the world’s first nation to pass a sweeping law against the trade in fur. But now it may fall prey to an ultra-orthodox Jewish “tradition.”
A national poll, conducted last year, showed that 86 percent of Israelis believe that killing animals for their fur is immoral, and 79 percent said they supported a bill that would ban the fur industry altogether – including all fur imports and the production and sale of fur in the country.
The bill was looking like a shoo-in, but as a parliamentary vote approached, lawmakers started getting cold feet.
The only opposition to the ban was coming from the small but very vocal lobby of ultra-orthodox Jews of Eastern European descent who say the wearing of a fur-trimmed hat for certain religious occasions is a religious “tradition.”
For those who wear the fur hat, it links them back to their northern European ancestry. The slight variations in the trimming of the fur display particular social affiliations or financial standing, but the wearing of the hat itself has nothing to do with religion, ethics or belief systems. Hundreds of years ago, in the cold climate of northern Europe, wearing fur had a practical side. But in the warm, Mediterranean climate of Israel, it seems to most Israelis an anomaly they can do without.
In any case, the author of the bill, Ronit Tirosh, MK, had already agreed to allow for certain religious use of fur. But in September, the Minister of Religious Services, Yakov Margi, stalled the vote by asking for time to study implications that he said hadn’t been considered.
A group of international celebrities have now joined the lobbying effort. Pamela Anderson, who is about to start in the Israeli version of “Dancing with the Stars,” has sent Minister Margi a letter that includes a link to a deeply distressing video of animals being skinned alive for their fur.
Meanwhile, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer suggested that the law would violate certain trade agreements. And this may mean that business interests, rather than orthodox cultural ones, are what’s really stalling the passage of the otherwise universally popular bill.