Just a week after Knesset members had passed a bill to prohibit the trade of foie gras in Israel in a preliminary reading, coalition leaders allegedly vowed on Monday to return the disputed bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

The practice of producing foie gras – a liver delicacy generated by forcefeeding ducks and geese – was prohibited by the High Court of Justice about a decade ago after being deemed abusive, but the import and sale of the product remains legal in the country today.

An initial bill to ban its import and sale, proposed by MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) in conjunction with animal rights advocacy groups, received an initial nod from the Ministerial Committee on June 9. Soon after, however, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch appealed the approval on behalf of Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, who feared that a ban on the product’s import could spark trade retaliations among European countries that produce foie gras like Hungary and France.

Two Thursdays ago, however, Shamir and Lipman came to a compromise, and the former agreed to lift the appeal on the decision if the bill would simply ban the trade of foie gras in Israel – and not the import. Such a law would enable individuals to personally import the delicacy, but would not allow the sale of the product to restaurants.

Last Wednesday, the Knesset approved the bill in its preliminary reading, with 59 members voting in its favor and 10 opposing it.

In a discussion led by MK Robert Ilatov, the head of the Yisrael Beytenu faction, Knesset members allegedly sparred about the issue at a coalition management meeting on Monday – concluding that the bill must return to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.

“Only a week ago Yisrael Beytenu announced that it will support the law and promote it, and now it is trying once again to obstruct it without any topical arguments,” said Hagai Cohen, from Anonymous for Animal Rights. “The resistance of Yisrael Beytenu does not smell good. Instead of worrying about the public interest, Yisrael Beytenu is struggling for a handful of force-feeding Hungarians.”

In response to the accusations, a source familiar with the issue from within the coalition told The Jerusalem Post that Lipman has been providing misinformation about who exactly supports the bill and that he has not provided sufficient answers as to how the law would be properly enforced.

“There was wall-to-wall opposition, including from members of his own party,” the source said.

Such a law has never passed in any other country and has only been approved in the state of California, a place to which Israel cannot be compared, as California is not a country with international trade agreements, according to the source. Meanwhile, the source said that coalition leaders have found significant flaws within the structure of the bill and slammed Lipman and the activists for hiding elements “under the carpet” through a “campaign of misinformation.”

“There’s a worry among many about a more sinister subtext to this issue because all proposals of compromise are being dismissed and the groups aligned with them are Anonymous for Animal Rights, Women in Black, [MK] Dov Henin [Hadash] – extreme left and anti-Zionist groups,” the source continued.

In response to these allegations, Anonymous for Animal Rights denied any connection with the group Women in Black, and said that the accusations are false.

"Anonymous for Animal Rights is an a-political non-profit organization, which promotes the protection of hundreds of millions of animals who are subjected to systematic abuse," a statement from the group said. "20 Knesset members from right and left have joined MK Rabbi Lipman's initiative to ban the sale of foie gras – from Amnon Cohen (Shas) and Moshe Feiglin (Likud) to Eithan Cabel (Labor) and Dov Henin (Hadash)."

Coalition leaders also expressed fears that in light of Poland’s ban on kosher slaughter last week, such Israeli legislation could prompt further such action among European nations, in several of which animal rights groups are already active against the Jewish traditional practice.

“There is a worry that this could be the first of many,” the source said, stressing that the foie gras bill could be “reckless to the Jewish community in Europe” in what has become “a very sensitive time.”

To this, Anonymous for Animal Rights claimed that "there is no connection whatsoever between the ban and the struggle for kosher slaughter in Europe," adding that "the European Jewish organization Shechita has denied that claim and expressed support in the ban." 

In response to the ongoing saga, Shamir stressed that he had no part whatsoever in Monday’s coalition discussions.

“This is an independent process and decisions of the legislative authority in which neither the Agriculture Ministry nor the agriculture minister have any involvement,” a statement from Shamir said.

“At the moment that the ban on imports – which could have hurt Israeli exports and created a dangerous precedent on the subject of kosher slaughter – was removed from the bill, there was nothing preventing the continuation of the legislative process.

“As proof of this, the appeal that was filed was removed and the bill was brought for a preliminary vote in the Knesset,” the agriculture minister continued.

Lipman too stressed that the law passed by a large majority in the preliminary Knesset reading, emphasizing that “the purpose of the law is to protect animals, those who cannot protect themselves, and not those who care only about themselves.

“Unfortunately there are foreign interests in Yisrael Beytenu that are trying to incite the discussion and to bury the law,” Lipman said. “I will fight until this soul corrupting food will go away from Israel. It is clear to me that throughout this struggle, people will try to discredit my name – unlike them, I have nothing to hide.”

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