Around two thousand animal rights activists, brandishing signs in one hand and cradling pet dogs in the other, marched along Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard Saturday night to “give a voice to the voiceless.”

The Giant Protest for Animals is a national effort that quickly became international as word spread through Facebook. The non-political, animal rights activism march was originally only supposed to occur in Tel Aviv, but similar marches took place this weekend in more than 40 cities around the world under the headline: “Earthlings: No Longer Blind to Injustice – International March for Animal Liberation.”

The massive call to protest is the brainchild of Asaf Harduf, a young Israeli criminal lawyer who only became directly involved in animal rights activism this year. Harduf became a vegetarian eight years ago and then a vegan five years ago and only recently began joining in on animal rights protest, where he said he “realized how fulfilling it is to stand with other people who believe with all their heart that animals should have their life and freedom.”

“I spoke to a few activists about the various struggles to save the animals – the struggle against the food industry, against experiments, against fur and other fights,” Harduf told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, two days before the march. “I thought about an idea to unite all of us – in all the various struggles – into one giant march... speaking for all the animals and against all violence and all forms of exploitation.”

When Harduf launched the Tel Aviv event on Facebook about a month ago, he said he reached 500 participants within the span of one day, a number that rose to 900 the next day.

After speaking with members of various Israeli animal rights activism groups, he decided to expand the effort further.

Sasha Boojor, the founder of the Israeli rights group 269life, connected Harduf with a San Franciscan activist named Wayne Hsiung, and from there, the marches spread globally, Harduf explained.

Other Israeli animal rights groups included Anonymous for Animal Rights, Let Animals Live, the Israeli Association Against Experimentation on Animals, Jane Halevy from the Anti- Fur Coalition, Anat Refua leading the struggle to close down the Mazor monkey farm and a group promoting the use of cosmetics that have not been tested on animals, signified by a bunny sticker.

“Almost everyone answered the call,” Harduf said. “The challenge was to put them all in one room and decide one message.”

In the end, the central message they decided upon was a campaign to “look into the eyes” of animals, to remind everyone that they too have eyes and that hurting another creature is much more difficult when you look into its eyes, Harduf explained.

“It’s nice that we are making an echo and we are thinking about the day after Saturday, but we are not political we are trying to make a social difference,” he said.

At the demonstration, activists and concerned members of the public alike marched toward the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, led by a huge banner that gave passersby literally no choice but to look into the widespread eyes of cats and dogs.

Nadia Sachlev, a Tel Aviv resident who came out for the march to “give a voice to the voiceless,” stressed that although she is not an activist for one particular cause, she is “against anything cruel to animals” and had hopes that the march would raise public awareness and instigate legislative changes.

Voicing similar sentiments, Hila Keren, the spokeswoman for Anonymous for Animal Rights, expressed her satisfaction that so many people had amassed for the march, noting that “Israelis don’t usually make it to things on time.”

“The aim is to raise public awareness to animal rights and the horrible abuse that hundreds of millions of animals go through in Israel alone,” Keren said.

Although agreeing that the march itself did not have political purposes, Keren stressed the awareness raised through such a demonstration can encourage people to make better life choices such as purchasing cosmetics free of animal testing, refusing to wear leather and changing their diets.

“It’s the first time in Israel that so many people are marching for animal rights,” she said.

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