This year, Voiceless was delighted to support Anonymous, an animal protection organisation spearheading the campaign against live export in importing nation Israel. Voiceless’s managing director and co-founder, Ondine Sherman, spoke with Anonymous about the live export industry from the perspective of an importing nation and the challenges they face.
Could you please sum up the history and major features of the live export/import market in Israel?
Live export from Australia to Israel started in 2000, as part of liberalisation process in the government's economic policy to open the Israeli market to free trade. In 2013, Israel imported 88,580 calves and 50,642 sheep from Australia. There is also live export from Europe, but on a smaller scale.
The animals that arrive at Eilat port are loaded onto trucks and transferred to quarantines, and then to farms in Israel and the Palestinian authority. They are fattened in closed facilities and their meat is labelled the same as to that of Israeli animals.
What is the public perception of live exports in Israel?
Throughout the years, there has been sharp criticism of live export by the media and the general public following undercover investigations by Anonymous activists that revealed horrible violence towards the animals. However, most Israelis don't know much about live export. When they hear about it, they are usually surprised to find out that animals are transferred all the way from Australia just to be slaughtered here.
In the last two years the public awareness has increased, following an investigation that was broadcast on national TV, reports of animals that died in shipments that broke down on the way from Australia, and protests against the government's decision to eliminate import taxes on live calves.
Anonymous have been involved in several major investigations exposing cruelty at abattoirs such as Bakar Tnuva in northern Israel, in particular several cases of extreme cruelty against Australian exported animals. These cases resulted in outcries in Australia, did these revelations have a significant impact here in Israel?
The Bakar Tnuva investigation was broadcast on Israel's leading TV network, and reached almost every house in Israel as the media continued to cover it intensely weeks and months later. It was reported that sales from Bakar Tnuva decreased while news reports followed developments in the investigation of the case.
On top of the legal proceedings that we initiated, two class action lawsuits were filed by consumers who were shocked by the abuse. Ironically, in its statement to court, Tnuva admitted to abusive conditions in any slaughter, regardless of its compliance with the regulations: “There is no reason to assume the claimed damage of ‘profound shock, anger, repugnance and sadness’ would not have been caused to consumers even if what had been documented and broadcast had been the usual, violent procedure in accordance with the regulations concerning the animals at the time of their slaughter, the legality of which is not in dispute".
Since the investigation, we have seen enormous rise in public interest in vegetarianism and veganism. In a way, this campaign marked a turning point in public awareness to animal rights in Israel.
Have there been any changes in public perception of live export in Israel, and indeed wider animal farming and slaughter practices in recent years?
Undercover investigations have raised awareness of the suffering of animals in factory farms. A recent survey reveals that 5% of the population is vegan, and another 8% vegetarian – which means over 1 million people in Israel have stopped eating animals. 13% are considering going vegan or vegetarian, 10% have a relative who turned vegan during the last year, and 14% have a friend who made has the transition. 23% are eating less meat, and 18% are eating less dairy. In a different survey, 55% declared they try to avoid purchasing products in which animals were harmed in the production process.
In Australia, live export has bipartisan support. Is the trade a divisive issue in Israel amongst political parties?
We work with members of the Knesset [Israeli parliament] from all political parties to strengthen the protection of animals, but there has yet to be a discussion on live export in the current Knesset.
What would you say was a pivotal moment for Anonymous and the animal protection movement in Israel over recent times?
Anonymous' greatest achievement is undoubtedly banning the force feeding of geese and ducks. Israel used to be the world's fourth largest producer of foie gras, and the ban saved 800,000 animals a year from horrible torture. In order to complete the mission, these days we are promoting a ban on the sale of foie gras.
Anonymous is a registered charity promoting animal rights in Israel. The organisation's successful campaigns include: Stopping the force-feeding of geese and ducks (over 800,000 annually), stopping the water deprivation and isolation of veal calves, banning the dehorning of cows without anaesthetics, stopping vivisection in schools and more. Anonymous have enlisted tens of thousands to various campaigns, developed a lecture program which about 40,000 people attend annually, and succeeded in bringing animal issues to the mass media in Israel every week.