By Drew Winter and Missy Lane
On November 1, World Vegan Day, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) released a photo on their Facebook page illustrating their policy accommodating vegan soldiers. The measure includes faux leather boots, a stipend for purchasing one’s own meals and the right to deny immunizations in protest of animal testing. Our article is meant to illustrate why this must not be applauded by animal rights activists. Though appearing as a gesture of compassion, this measure is merely part of an ongoing, conscious marketing campaign by the Israeli government to soften its image and obscure the ruinous effects of its occupation of Palestine.
The occupation is segregation. It is apartheid. Throughout the region the separation by race of Israeli-only roads, schools, busing, jobs and housing are “legally” enforced by the might of the sixth largest nuclear power in the world. The separation wall further illegally annexes Palestinian lands, checkpoints are often sites of humiliation by IDF soldiers, and the visas and ID cards necessary for travel are frequently revoked or denied. This severely limits access to healthcare, work, school, and travel for Palestinians. It also affects the majority of non-Jewish Israelis within Palestine/Israel.
Baleka Mbete, the National Chairperson for the African National Congress (formerly lead by Nelson Mandela) said last week at their International Solidarity Conference that she has been to Palestine herself and that the Israeli regime is not only comparable but “far worse than Apartheid South Africa.”
The conference voted to support the Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) against Israel.
In response to growing international pressure, the Israeli government has strengthened its efforts of marketing itself as a haven for left-leaning ideals.
“We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” former Israeli Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General Arye Mekel told the New York Times in 2009. “This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
Since then, other campaigns have sprung up, including the “pink washing” attempts to advertise its tolerance of the LGBTQ community.
While the thriving LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv and even the current anti-fur bill which will hopefully pass in the Knesset are examples of the successful work of progressive Israeli activists, they must be kept in perspective. Nazi Germany enacted extensive environmental and animal protection laws and was the first state to ban vivisection – for which they deserved no praise whatsoever.
Giving commendation for offering cursory animal-friendly options to an institution that is increasingly recognized for human rights atrocities merely serves to further the myth that animal rights activists are misanthropic and will overlook human misfortune as long as fewer animals are killed. Furthermore, the IDF’s trading of animals’ suffering like a bargaining chip in exchange for public approval is itself a form of the exploitation of animals for selfish gain.
Mirroring the fall of apartheid, support for the occupation is crumbling. Those who made public their support for the military that carried out such hateful oppression — and their justifications for it— will be derided as foolish and opportunistic.
As vegan activists who understand that all injustice is intertwined, we must not be bought off with tokens or soften our criticism of a murderous regime. Nor must we ever lose sight of how our liberation is also intertwined—human and nonhuman, the oppressors and those who are oppressed. If we truly believe in justice without prejudice, we must stand in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian equality and the rights of nonhuman animals everywhere.
Drew Robert Winter is an activist and writer.
Missy Lane, worked, studied and traveled throughout the West Bank and Gaza with Holy Land Trust in 2005. She was a human rights monitor during the olive harvest in Hebron for the Siraj Center in 2007. In 2011 she joined the international “flytilla” action in Tel Aviv and was a passenger aboard the US Boat to Gaza – The Audacity of Hope.