My Word: Fur-thering whose interests?

What do a sabotaged ban on furs and Iran’s ongoing human rights violations have in common?

Fur (photo credit: Associated Press)
(photo credit: Associated Press)
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 Holocaust.
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.
The 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 Iranian people.”
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.”
My 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.
Among 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.
Painstakingly 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 skins.
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 West Bank.
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 again.
“We could easily have peace, but you have to change your leadership,” said one, referring to pre-disengagement Ariel Sharon.
“I 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.
I didn’t dare tell him that my idea of a perfect world is not based on the trade in dead 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 International Jerusalem Post.