Tal Gilboa's lifelong mission: Fighting for animal rights

Tal Gilboa is willing to go to great lengths for a cause she believes in

Tal Gilboa greets a bovine friend at a dairy farm in Kibbutz Givat Chaim Meuchad (photo credit: ROEE SHPERNIK)
Tal Gilboa greets a bovine friend at a dairy farm in Kibbutz Givat Chaim Meuchad
(photo credit: ROEE SHPERNIK)
“When it comes to helping animals, there is no Left or Right,” says Tal Gilboa.
Gilboa has made animal welfare her life’s mission. For over a decade she marched, protested, documented farms, dairies, slaughterhouses and even had numerous encounters with the law. In 2013 she founded the Israeli branch of the Animal Liberation Front and went on to arrange an animal rights march in Tel Aviv attended by 30,000 people.
Gilboa is not unknown. In 2014 she won Israeli Big Brother (the Israeli version of the international Big Brother reality television franchise) and skyrocketed to fame. Tal Gilboa became a household name. The NIS 700,000 prize money was a welcome reward, but Gilboa’s greatest satisfaction came from putting the animal welfare issue high on the news agenda.
“This is what I entered the contest for,” she explained. “The purpose was for animal rights to be on everyone’s lips, and it worked.”
Viewers of the popular show watched as Gilboa refused to eat meat with her housemates and witnessed fellow tenants struggle to watch Gilboa’s grueling footage of the meat industry horrors. They heard her argue and watched her cry as she described slaughterhouse practices.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted this photo on Facebook, wishing Gilboa success on her first day as his animal rights adviser.
“The scariest thing about hearing the slaughter,” an emotional Gilboa told fellow tenants, “is the silence that comes afterwards because you know there was life, and now there isn’t.”
Perhaps most important was her triumphant exit from the house, wearing a dress that boldly stated, “Meat is Murder; Go Vegan.” Nearly two million viewers read the message and a social media frenzy ensued, with heated exchanges blazing over the controversial winner and her equally polarizing cause.
Gilboa’s message sank in. A Globes survey released after the show revealed that 49% of the viewers changed their minds in regard to the suffering animals go through in the meat industry, and 60% of the viewers have marked a change in their eating habits.
“When I first started my activism journey, I was rather naive,” reflected Gilboa. “I believed that if I show people the shocking reality of the food industry, that if they see footage of a slaughterhouse, for example, they will be converted. But I now realize that it is not easy for people to rethink the eating habits of a lifetime and it is even harder for them to put it into action and cut meat out” of their diet altogether.
AFTER MORE a decade of on-the-ground activism, it was time for Gilboa to adopt a new, more effective approach. In 2019 Gilboa accepted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation to be his adviser on animal matters. The offer felt like “the right path” to pursue. It opened the doors to the corridors of power but meant that the mother of three would live her life even more in the public eye – something she was no stranger to.
As an activist for over a decade, Gilboa was accustomed to disagreement and heated exchanges, but nothing could have prepared her for the “level of hostility” sparked by her association with the prime minister and his family.
Netanyahu shows off his dog Kaya to then-US secretary of state John Kerry in Jerusalem in 2015. (US Embassy in Tel Aviv via Flash90)
“I have been called any name under the sun that you can imagine,” she told the Magazine. “It is hostility on a very intense level – and the worst of it comes from vegans and those on the Left. It really is a myth that all vegans are incredibly kind or that there are no animal rights activists on the Right.”
To Gilboa, the official appointment marked “a historic day for animals” but many perceived it as a smart political maneuver on Netanyahu’s behalf. Social media comments posted in response to the appointment revealed a polarized public.
“This is great news for the animals,” wrote some. “This issue is beyond politics and any government should work on behalf of animals.”
Others questioned Gilboa’s ethics and condemned her for “associating with a criminal.” They accused her of being a sycophant and a “bootlicker.”
“I realize that many people have an issue with me working with Netanyahu,” said Gilboa. “These people just prove to me that their antipathy toward Netanyahu is greater than their love for animals.”
“Netanyahu is problematic to many Israelis,” I tell her.
“When I took on this role,” she replied, “I looked beyond politics because I strongly believe when it comes to helping animals, there is no Left or Right. I realize that many people have a problem with Netanyahu,” she continued, “but I tell these people that I was a teenager during the Oslo period and I remember what it feels like to live in fear, without security, as terror attacks struck ‘every Monday and Thursday.’ Bibi brought security and turned Israel into a global empire.”
Gilboa attributes much of the resentment to people being so accustomed to “the good life” that they fail to recognize and appreciate it. But above all, she keeps her focus on the cause that she feels is most important.
“Animal rights activism is a tough and emotionally draining struggle. You live with the ongoing frustration of being unable to ease the animals’ pain, but I am not one to give up. I’m in it for long run.”