It’s all about double standards. That was my answer to the colleague who asked
how I intended to tie together in one op-ed themes as diverse as Israel’s
anti-fur legislation and Iran’s nuclear threat and human rights infractions.
Before you fire off a talkback: Yes, I am a vegetarian; no, I don’t own leather
handbags or belts; and I am definitely not comparing the industrial mass
slaughter of animals – however disgusted I am by it – to the
But the fur ban got under my skin, as it were, and what has
happened to it is making my hackles rise.
This piece of legislation,
which would ban the import and sale of furs in Israel, has the potential of
creating another diplomatic crisis – because it is too progressive.
bill, initiated by MKs Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), has
been making its passage through the Knesset for more than a year. Taking
objections by the haredim into consideration, it was altered to make an
exception for furs used for shtreimels, but nonetheless remains the most
advanced legislation on the issue in the world. Too advanced, it seems:
Twenty four hours before it was meant to come up for second and third reading on
July 12, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he would
be forced to oppose it.
His threat, Tirosh told me, follows intensive
lobbying by Denmark and other countries, scared that the Israeli legislation
would act as a global precedent and encourage other states to pass similar laws,
which could affect the very lucrative fur trade.
Ben-Eliezer is a
political animal with a thick skin, but the possibility of damaged trade ties at
a time when Israel is increasingly facing boycotts was reportedly enough to
force him to torpedo the bill.
The sales of fur in sunshine-blessed
Israel are, naturally, not high: This law would not directly cause the death of
the Danish fur industry (or even save the lives of many animals who literally
lose the coats off their backs), but Denmark fears the Israeli bill might be a
light unto the nations.
So we have the US telling us where we can build,
the UN telling us how we can defend ourselves and countries like Denmark (and
reportedly Canada) telling us what animal welfare laws we can pass. No matter
what we do, we are pelted with objections.
NOW I’VE got that off my
chest, on to another hair-raising issue: Iran.
On July 13, I attended a
press conference in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim, hosted by INFO (Israel
Newsmakers Forum), presenting an international report endorsed by 100 scholars,
jurists and government leaders. You can get an idea of its length and heavy
nature by the title: “The Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal and Rights-Violating
Iran; the Responsibility to Prevent.”
It was presented by an impressive
panel comprising former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, public law
expert and former education minister Amnon Rubinstein and Bassam Eid, director
of Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, while former Supreme Court
president Meir Shamgar looked on.
The report is intended to serve, as
Cotler put it, as both a “wake-up call” and an 18-point “road map” for action
against the Iranian regime.
Throughout the presentation it was stressed
that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a “clear and present threat” not
only to international peace and security but also, “increasingly and alarmingly,
to its own people,” in Cotler’s words.
“Simply put, we are witnessing in
Ahmadinejad’s Iran the toxic convergence of four distinct yet interrelated
dangers: the nuclear threat; the genocidal incitement threat; state-sponsored
terrorism; and the systematic and widespread violations of the rights of the
Implicit in the petition is the acknowledgment that by
focusing on the nuclear issue, other serious human rights issues have been
largely overlooked. Testimony includes reports of torture, an assault on women’s
rights, oppression of minorities such as the Baha’is and Kurds; murder of
political dissidents; the denial of gay rights and what Cotler described as “the
wanton imposition of the death penalty, including the execution of more
juveniles than any other country in the world.”
And somehow Israel is
perceived as the universal public enemy No. 1.
The report and discussion,
however, revealed a possible reason: Iran has imprisoned more journalists than
any other country and cracked down massively on “cyber dissidents.”
answer to my colleague presented only part of the picture. It’s not all based on
hypocrisy; it’s also about business interests.
The Responsibility to
Prevent panelists noted that sanctions against Iran exist but are not enforced.
For example, in the last decade, according to the report, the US government
awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits
to foreign and multinational companies doing business in Iran.
suggestions for tackling the regime were limiting foreign visits by Iranian
leaders – Rubinstein noted he had been on a sabbatical year at Columbia
University when Ahmadinejad was feted there as a guest speaker (in 2007);
freezing assets of Iranian officials; and supporting organizations that document
human rights abuses in Iran.
And Iranian leaders should be prosecuted in
The Hague’s International Court of Justice, stressed all three speakers. In
obvious preparation for just this, an extraordinarily detailed “Chronology of
Statements of Incitement and Hate Language: Ahmadinejad and Other Iranian
Leaders” was also released at the press conference.
prepared by members of the Hebrew University- Hadassah Genocide Prevention
Program and World Genocide Situation Room of Genocide Prevention Now, it lists a
decade’s worth of statements, many of which show that the thought of a nuclear
Iran should have more than Israelis jumping out of their
Soft-spoken Rubinstein went as far as saying: “This is the ’30s
all over again.”
Eid also noted the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza
under the Iran-backed Hamas compared to the development of Palestinians in the
THE CALLS for a regime change in Teheran reminded me of my
first meeting with Iranians not living in the West. In 2004, I was sent to cover
what I had been told was a textile exhibition in Turkey. In Istanbul, I found
myself the only Israeli (and vegetarian) in the press delegation attending a fur
and leather trade show.
As usually happens when a hassled (but lovely)
tour guide tries to rush journalists from one place to another according to an
itinerary that none of them has drawn up, a camaraderie developed. I apparently
had a certain novelty appeal and the Iranian reporters soon introduced me to
their compatriots at the exhibition and on the sideline events. “The Iranian
people has nothing against the Israeli people,” I was assured time and
“We could easily have peace, but you have to change your
leadership,” said one, referring to pre-disengagement Ariel Sharon.
don’t think it’s our leaders
who are preventing peace between us,” I countered,
and we parted as friends – him expressing the dream of a fur trade route
including Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and, yes, possibly Tel Aviv.
dare tell him that my idea of a perfect world is not based on the trade
animals. By the time peace comes, maybe the enlightened nations will
have let us
pass the anti-fur legislation.
The writer is editor of The