Among the challenges and dilemmas faced by activist groups is the question how to strike a proper balance between advancing the group’s particular goal and fostering solidarity with other groups. Animal rights organizations are no different. Questions of coalitions and fractures come up all the time, be it the issue of financial and sexual misbehavior of leadership or concerns about outreach to other leftie organizations, who may misperceive the animal liberation struggle as trite concentration on “first-world problems.” Some efforts to bridge these conflicts make a lot of sense by pointing out similarities between some animal struggles and human struggles: Karen Morin’s work comparing cattle towns to prison towns is a worthy effort, as is the consensus-building work between animal rights activists and slaughterhouse workers; after all, working in a cruel industry harms the human workers as well as the animals.
But the strong emotions evoked by human armed conflict can lead animal rights organizations to choices that reflect, at best, organizational shortsightedness. One classic example is the political diversity of the ideologically engaged, dedicated, and successful Israeli vegan movement. About a decade ago, a lecture by animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky went viral, converting many Israelis across the political spectrum to veganism. Some important U.S. animal rights actions (such as a kaparos intervention in New York on behalf of roosters, which I played a small part in by providing legal advice) were guided by Israeli activists. Some of the most powerful interventions against the factory farm industry were conducted by entrepreneurial Israeli animal liberationists.
By the same token, it turns out that some of these folks, as they fight against the caging and slaughter of animals, simultaneously see the occupation is a-ok, which is a bone of contention in the Israeli activist scene. When activist leader Tal Gilboa quickly linked hands with the Netanyahu government after rumors of her unsavory leadership in the animal rights movement spread, many vegan communities were torn asunder, and with good reason.
But what really takes the cake is this week’s romance between DxE, an organization that has benefitted for many years from my energy and expertise, and… Hamas, a well-known animal rights organization (caution: the footage in the link is harrowing). DxE Bay Area issued a call to participate in one of the loony city council meetings issuing statements of solidarity.
Just to get a sense of what happens at these city council meetings that animal rights activists were so eager to attend, here’s an assortment of nutty comments from my fellow citizens, some of whom call Hamas “the armed wing of unified Palestinian resistance.”
Examples of the terrorists’ cruelty to the animals living in the kibbutzim they rampaged through abound: slaughtered dogs and cats, lost animals in search of their murdered human family members. Total devastation. Mia Leimberg, pictured above, was kidnapped from her home with her dog, Bella. When the terrorists realized Bella was a living being, rather than a doll, they wanted to take her away from Mia. But Mia protected her dog, shared her meagre rations with her, and insisted on remaining with her to the end, even as Hamas terrorists tried to take the dog away from her as she was being released. Stories of released hostages reuniting with their dogs are heartwarming – virtually every hostage has family members still in captivity, and to encounter their pets on the outside must offer so much comfort to their bruised hearts.
It’s easy to dismiss a lot of the DxE idiocy on this topic as a generational issue. Many activists are very young; moreover, all around me I see evidence that, from a moral maturity standpoint, 40 is the new 20, and in activism circles in particular absolutist thinking is very common. But since doubling down on this topic, the movement is losing allies left and right, not only their many Jewish (former) members, and notably, when I wrote to admonish the organizational leadership for this post, the reply was, essentially, “where did you see this?” as if the concern here should be about covering up the forensic tracks of this travesty rather than wondering why it was posted (and liked, and shared) in the first place.
My new rule for collaborations with activist organizations in all areas–law enforcement, prison conditions, human rights, animal rights–is this: I do not breathe the same air with, nor do I spend a drop of energy or a red cent on, or contribute my expertise to, anyone who does not think I have a right to exist. Fortunately, there are plenty of avenues to help humans and animals that do not require these unsavory collaborations. Such is, for example, the massive effort by Achim LaNeshek and animal rights activists to locate the displaced pets and farm animals and return them to their families, or to call attention to the animals in Gaza under heavy fire. Animals are not “Zionist imperialists” any more than they are “Islamic terrorists”. They are innocent bystanders in this horrid conflict (as are so many of the humans, men, women, children, literally caught in the crossfire) and should receive help and relief. Think what you may about petting zoos, etc.–I’m not a fan–these animals, like all animals, deserve our love and help. This is the side animal rights orgs should take: The animals’ side.