Can animal rights take precedence over human rights?

Animal rights movements in Israel have grown in size and power in recent years. At the same time, a growing number of people are questioning the relationship between animal rights and the ongoing violation of Palestinian human rights. Vegan guru Gary Yourofsky, who is scheduled to speak in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, has some shocking things to say about the latter.

Awareness of animal rights has grown dramatically in Israel in recent years, entering both the political and public discourse. In a recent post, I surveyed the growing number of Israelis turning to veganism and the restaurants that have opened (mainly) in Tel Aviv to cater to vegans, the new Israeli “269” movement which inspired an international campaign, the support from local celebrities for animal rights and the immense success of the Hebrew-subtitled version of Gary Yourofsky’s “Best speech you will ever hear” video. Just last month, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprising statement about how he became aware and more sensitive to animal suffering, and on Monday according to Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid Netanyahu said how he and his wife Sara have greatly reduced their intake of meat, due in part to several books by Israeli authors on the issue of veganism and animal rights.

But the movement’s growing power hasn’t made it immune to criticism. While criticism of carnivores is to be expected, the Israeli movement is seeing a more targeted criticism coming from the anti-occupation Israeli radical left, including from sworn vegans. One of its focal points revolves around several vegan and organic products (consumed by the same like-minded crowds), many of which originate in heavily state-subsidized agriculture sector in West Bank settlements.

The internal friction within the movement may be facing an interesting turn as Yourofsky arrives in Israel for a second, highly-anticipated visit. As part of the tour, Yourofsky is scheduled to give a talk at Ariel University (in the West Bank settlement by the same name), which was founded by military decree. The entire Israel tour was coordinated by a new, high-profile NGO named “Vegan Friendly,” and is being co-sponsored by three of the oldest and most established animal rights groups in Israel as well as several vegan restaurant chains.

“Humans are the SCUM of the earth. I don’t care about Jews or Palestinians.” Yourosky (Screenshot from YouTube)
“Humans are the SCUM of the earth. I don’t care about Jews or Palestinians.” Yourosky (Screenshot from YouTube)

When asked by +972 about the possible collision of agendas in appearing in a place deemed illegal by the entire international community for the purpose of promoting an end to animal suffering, Yourofsky was very blunt in brushing aside the question.

“Since the ‘international community’ is comprised of violent, bloodthirsty thugs who terrorize billions of innocent animals every second of every minute of every hour of every day, the ‘international community’ can go to HELL,” he wrote back.

Responding to the core question of the Palestinian struggle and the call to boycott Israeli academia and the settlements, Yourofsky said he sees no point in caring about any human beings so long as animals that are being regularly slaughtered. “When people start eating sliced up Jew flesh, or seared Palestinian children in between two slices of bread with onions, pickles and mustard, then I’ll be concerned about the Middle East situation.”

“Humans are the SCUM of the earth,” he continued. “I don’t care about Jews or Palestinians, or their stupid, childish battle over a piece of God-forsaken land in the desert. I care about animals, who are the only oppressed, enslaved and tormented beings on this planet. Human suffering is a joke. Therefore, I will speak anywhere, in any city, in any country, in any location that will have me. I would lecture IN a Palestinian school if they would bring me in.”

Ron Shor, a spokesperson for Vegan Friendly, said his organization would not care to comment further.

College in Ariel, West Bank (Wikimedia CC BY SA 3.0)
College in Ariel, West Bank (Wikimedia CC BY SA 3.0)

Daniel Erlich, another organizer and devoted animal rights activist, had an interesting perspective to offer. A former activist agains the occupation, Erlich explained that he left his West Bank activism behind after being invited to an action to help Palestinians rebuild chicken coops destroyed by the Israeli army. “I decided I won’t be willing to help the struggle against the caging and oppression of humans by supporting the caging and murder of animals.”

Yourosky, Erlich explained,  is also a single-issue activist.

What he’s trying to say in his own special way is that he would do anything he can to stop the murder and torture of animals, regardless of any other oppression. There are meat eaters in Ariel too, and so to give up on a lecture in Ariel means that in the name of a different struggle we accept Ariel resident’s contribution to animal holocaust.

Yourofsk’s lecture is not a form of entertainment, but a preaching on behalf of animals and I think there’s something unfair and unconstructive in criticizing it. Imagine the opposite situation, when anti-occupation activists eat meat or build coops like the action I mentioned before. Would anyone in Haaretz or +972 write about it, shocked that anti-occupation single issue activists are harming the animal rights struggle? No. Criticism of single-issue activism always comes from one direction, and this is due to the tendency to put humans at the center of everything – a tendency shared even by some vegans.

The other side of the debate is represented in an op-ed published by Aeyal Gross in Haaretz. Gross, a professor of international law and a part vegetarian part vegan himself, claims that the much-welcomed turn to veganism in Israel is liable to become a new type of pinkwashing (the hiding of Israel’s occupation and apartheid practices by promoting progressive LGBT legislation, gay tourism in Tel Aviv and the like). He calls it “vegan-washing.”

Gross uses his piece to examine Netanyahu’s recent comments on animal suffering, as well as the IDF’s providing leather-free boots and caps to vegan soldiers.

When veganism becomes a tool to improve the IDF’s image, or that of Israel as a whole – which is what Megged suggests – and when attempts are being made to cover up the fact that the IDF operates an occupation mechanism that denies people their basic human rights, veganism is being appropriated for propaganda purposes.

In Tel Aviv today, it is far easier to find food whose preparation has not involved the exploitation of animals than to find food whose production has not entailed the oppression and uprooting of other human beings.

…The conclusion to be drawn from this observation is not to abstain from veganism, but rather to appropriate it as yet another element in the general struggle against oppression – of any kind.

Read more:
The rise of Israel’s animal rights movement