How did we make Israel the first country in the world to ban the fur trade?
By: Omer Ginzburg
It is a quiet, early summer afternoon at Animals Now headquarters. Suddenly, roars of joy from one of the offices break the silence. At first, it’s hard to make out what’s being said, but soon voices can also be heard from other rooms, and the words become clearer: "Gila signed! Gila signed!" Who is Gila, and what had she signed? Gila Gamliel, the then Minister of Environmental Protection, had signed regulations making Israel the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur. This historic decision, just a few days before the formation of a new government in Israel, marks the end of a long struggle spanning three decades at Animals Now. How did it happen?
The 90's: Taking fur out of fashion
Although the winters in Israel are mild, for years it was not unusual to see the rich and famous draped in fur coats at special events. In the early 1990s, Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv was the center of the Israeli fur trade, and animal rights activists began holding weekly protest vigils in front of stores selling fur, and at events people would attend wearing fur. Following one of the demonstrations held at the opening of a concert at the Tel Aviv Hall of Culture, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv at the time, the late Haim David Halevi, decided to issue a statement calling on his community to stop wearing fur.
Animals Now demonstration in 1995: "We'd rather go naked than wear fur"
The activists who led the protest founded Animals Now in 1994 (then known as Anonymous), and the fight against the fur industry was one of the major campaigns in the early years of the organization. Weekly protest vigils presented creative opportunities for attracting media attention, such as a parade through the heart of Tel Aviv led by activists marching naked with the banner: "We’d rather go naked than wear fur."
Following these protests, some fur stores began selling different products or relegating fur to racks at the back of the store, while other fur stores closed their doors for good. In 1995, Animals Now opened their first action center where one of these stores had stood.
Demonstrations continued throughout the decade, and we witnessed the gradual disappearance of fur stores in the city and of fur coats from prestigious events – fur was becoming less accepted. By the early 2000s, fur had definitely gone out of fashion, both in Israel and worldwide, but it was still legal.
"Another fur store closed": Animals Now magazine in the late 90's
The 2000's: How we shook the global fur industry
During the early 2000s, when fur for fashion seemed to be a thing of the past, the fashion industry began incorporating fur ‘decoration’ for coats, bags, and shoes. This proved a popular alternative to the full fur coats that were going out of fashion. In 2005, when this trend reached its peak, a heated protest broke out in Israel against the Castro fashion chain, which sold products with fur trim. The fight against Castro, a company that had about 84 branches with a total value of about $80 million, eventually led to their commitment to stop selling fur products. Other chains, such as Hamashbir Lazarchan, followed suit. As most furs were imported from China, activists Jane Halevy and Mitzi Ocean decided to increase the pressure, organizing demonstrations outside Chinese embassies in Israel and worldwide. Dozens of organizations joined the movement, coordinating and collaborating to form the International Anti-Fur Coalition. The movement was gaining momentum – 70 organizations joined the fight against fur.
These successes indicated that public opinion was on our side and that the time had come to work towards a ban on the sale of fur, to prevent the industry from any attempt to bring this violent fashion statement back into favor. Along with Israeli activists from the International Anti-Fur Coalition, and later with Let the Animals Live, Animals Now began taking action in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. As we soon discovered, our efforts to stop this international industry would be fiercely fought back against, making the prohibition of fur no easy task.
Following our activities, between 2009–2010, two different Knesset members from the opposition submitted bills on the subject, which managed to gain the government’s support after some amendments. A bill was then discussed in parliament and gained broad international interest. Representatives of international animal welfare organizations supported the bill (including Pamela Anderson, who met with members of parliament with us on the subject).
Still, representatives of the fur industry came out to try to sabotage the bill and prevent it from becoming a legal precedent. The global pressure exerted by the fur industry was unpredictable – and as we were to discover, this is an industry that isn’t afraid to play dirty. Unfortunately, the industry managed to exert greater economic pressure, and the bill was dropped due to opposition from the coalition. A year later, the government submitted a bill to amend the Wildlife Protection Law, into which we successfully incorporated a ban on the sale of fur. But this bill was blocked once again before it was even put to a vote in parliament.
Protest in Tel Aviv, by the International Anti-Fur Coalition. Activists display country flags and the years in which laws against fur were enacted
Demonstration in Tel Aviv against the fur trade, 2014
Countries and cities that banned the use of fur and the year of the ban
At that time, although we were not yet successful, we took the time to translate the bill into English, and as Jane says: "Sometimes a seed has to be sown, and the world is already taking notice. The very fact that the law has not passed has made our collective voice against fur even stronger." International organizations were inspired by the Israeli struggle and began promoting bans on the sale of fur or breeding animals for fur worldwide. One of the first significant accomplishments came when Rosa Close of the Anti-Fur Society (the first organization to join the alliance) led a campaign that made the city of West Hollywood in California the first city in the United States to ban the sale of fur in 2011.
A few years later, in 2015, we helped uncover how much pressure the fur industry was under due to the bill we were promoting. An investigation aired on public television during prime time revealed that the international fur industry had paid the Danish embassy in Israel to fly influential Israelis to Denmark – in exchange for them working to block the bill. In 2019, senior members of the lobbying company who organized this scandal were questioned by police. In the meantime, in 2016, the fur industry promoted the opening of a fur design course at one of the largest Israeli fashion design colleges, but following a peaceful protest and media coverage, the course was scrapped.
Animals Now protest, 2020: The fur industry breeds pandemics
2020: Take advantage of a new political opportunity – and win
In the years since, we continued working to promote the bill. At the same time, we redoubled our efforts on the ground, mobilizing the public to support the struggle. Our opportunity came in 2020 when Gila Gamliel took over as Minister of Environmental Protection, and animal rights activist Tal Gilboa was appointed as the Prime Minister's Adviser on Animal Rights. As soon as Gamliel took office in June 2020, we met with her and presented her with steps she could take on the issue. To our delight, she joined the fight and soon published draft regulations prohibiting the sale of fur. At the beginning of June 2021, Gamliel completed the move and signed the bill. As with a law passed in California in 2019, Israeli regulations are not perfect and still allow the sale of fur for religious and research purposes (an exception that also existed in the bills we promoted in the past). Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this is significant and extremely positive progress for animals in Israel and the world.
Meeting of representatives of animal protection organizations (right: Hila Keren, Animals Now, Head of Policy and Campaigns) and Gila Gamliel, Minister of Environmental Protection, center), 8.6.2020
The domino effect of the fight against fur around the world is now unmistakable. In recent weeks we have had the pleasure of seeing other EU countries ban fur farming, and progress for a bill detailing a similar ban in Ireland. This is after a fur ban was passed in Estonia in early June. At the same time, more and more fashion chains around the world continue to announce an end to the use of fur in their products. There is no doubt that we are now making real progress in the fight for animals in the fur industry, and the clothing industry in general.
But beyond that, this achievement greatly strengthens us as activists. It is further proof that our actions do succeed in bringing about a significant change in both public opinion and the lives of animals. Or as Reut Horn, Executive Director of Animals Now, puts it: “This struggle is a prime example of how animal rights activists are changing the reality of our world for the better. It’s amazing to remember the marches and protest vigils we went out to in the ‘90s, when fur coats were sold and worn in public without comment, and barely anybody understood what we were protesting against. But animal rights activists did not accept this horrible reality – we kept fighting, and did not give up. Today, not only is almost the entire population opposed to the sale of fur, but we have also succeeded in persuading the government to ban the sale of these cruel products. Every person who came to a demonstration, signed a petition, participated in a protest, or contributed to the struggle over the years is a part of this success. When I think of every one of the 200 chinchillas, 70 minks or 20 foxes whose lives will be saved on every single fur coat not produced, I know that it was worth every minute of our efforts."