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Dander Up In Israel Over Proposed Fur Ban
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Dander Up In Israel Over Proposed Fur Ban

Middle East

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A battle is brewing in Israel. It's not over the usual issues; it's over fur. Israel's most conspicuous fur consumers, the ultra-Orthodox, are putting up stiff opposition to activists who want to make Israel the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has the story.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The debate in Israel's Knesset gained attention around the world. On one side where international animal-rights campaigners, on the other were lobbyists for the global fur industry. At stake, a bill that would pave the way for Israel to be the first country to make animal fur illegal.

Next to a row of cages where stray animal dogs are kept, Joshua Rotbart, the legal adviser for Let the Animals Live, an Israeli animal-rights group, says that it makes sense for Israel to pave the way in banning fur.

Mr. JOSHUA ROTBART (Legal adviser, Let the Animals Live): The market here is not that big. We're not talking of a huge industry like Canada or other European countries, or China. We're talking about small industry and it's pretty easy to ban a small industry.

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Mr. ROTBART: And it's a warm country; it's hot here. You dont really need to wear fur.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rotbart says Israelis only spend about $1.5 million a year on fur, unlike billions in other countries. He says Israel also makes sense as a place to have a total fur ban because Jews believe it's wrong to cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Before working on the law, his group consulted a chief rabbi and got his support.

Mr. ROTBART: The message we want to spread into the world is that enough is enough. It's all about the economy and the huge amount of money the manufacturers are making, but it's no more an excuse to just murder animals.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His campaign is backed by the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Paul McCartney. A recent poll shows overwhelming support among Israelis for the bill as well. Rotbart says he thought it would be easy to get the law on the books. But then he came up against the ultra-Orthodox community.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's just before the Jewish festival of Passover in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. It's a busy shopping day, especially at this hat store. Men crowd the place getting their black felt hats steamed into shape for the holidays. But by far, the most impressive head gear some ultra-Orthodox wear is called the shtreimel. It's a large circular piece of velvet surrounded by sable and it's meant to look like a fur crown. The shtreimel is used on the Sabbath and on holidays by married men only.

Kriandy Gutzman is shopping with a friend for a new shtreimel in Mea Shearim. She says the use of the shtreimel was born in the ghettos of Poland.

Ms. KRIANDY GUTZMAN: It signifies beauty and royalty, rather than a plain hat or no hat.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says it's part of their history and she's suspicious of the fur ban.

Ms. GUTZMAN: No, we have to wear our shtreimel. No, we're going to wear our shtreimel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The campaign has amended the proposed legislation to give a religious exemption to those who wear the shtreimel. But ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset, like Chaim Amsellem, are still against the measure. He says 90 percent of the fur that comes into this country is for religious use.

Mr. CHAIM AMSELLEM (Rabbi, Israeli political leader): (Through Translator) They want a law that will only affect 10 percent of the fur trade. There's no logic in legislating a bill that doesnt do what it's supposed to.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at the dog pound, Rotbart says he has tried to woo the balking legislators. He's told them banning fur will show Israel in a better light. There's been a recent raft of bad publicity he says, including a UN report authored by the jurist Richard Goldstone, that says Israel committed war crimes during last year's war in the Gaza Strip.

Mr. ROTBART: This is one of the, one of our reasoning for the Knesset members. Like, at least we'll have something positive except for the Goldstone report. We'll have something more humane to show to the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But, so far, the legislation is stuck in committee. Rotbart says he'll keep pushing to make Israel, at least in name, the first country to be fur-free.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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