Knesset votes to stop live animal transports within three years

Bill by Likud MK clears preliminary reading unopposed. Controversial shipments of lambs and calves for fattening, slaughter in Israel to be replaced by chilled meat imports

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Screenshot from Australian TV's "60 Minutes" broadcast about live shipments, "Sheep, Ships and Videotape," shown April 8, 2018.
Screenshot from Australian TV's "60 Minutes" broadcast about live shipments, "Sheep, Ships and Videotape," shown April 8, 2018.

Animal lovers celebrated Tuesday after the Knesset green-lighted a bill in its preliminary reading to stop controversial live transports of hundreds of thousands of lambs and calves from Australia and Europe to Israel each year for fattening and slaughter.

The bill, proposed by Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, was passed without opposition.

The proposed legislation seeks to gradually reduce livestock numbers being imported into Israel and to stop them completely within three years, moving entirely to the import of chilled meat.

According to the bill’s explanatory notes, animals on livestock transports are subject to severe overcrowding, become drenched in their and other animals’ feces and suffer from heat overload and from severe injuries resulting from being shaken around by the waves.

Screenshot from Australian TV’s “60 Minutes” broadcast about live shipments, “Sheep, Ships and Videotape,” shown April 8, 2018.

Many of them fall ill and many do not survive the journey.

A ministerial committee gave the go-ahead for the bill in July, after which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uploaded a photograph of a calf covered in excrement and wrote, “We approved at the Knesset Committee for Legislation a bill to stop the live shipments to Israel.

“We have to properly correct the great pain being caused to animals.”

His wife, Sara, who earlier this year wrote on her Facebook page that she was brokenhearted and appalled to see the conditions in which animals are transported to Israel, welcomed the committee’s approval of what she called “the humane and moral bill to stop the shipment of animals to Israel.”

“There is no living creature that deserves to endure such terrible suffering and we as a society must not accept the existing situation,” she said.

In July, 228 lawyers signed a petition calling for live shipments to be stopped, saying they contravened legislation on animal rights. Their petition quoted the late Supreme Court deputy president Mishael Cheshin, who wrote, “Protecting animals is part of the moral obligation to protect the weak in society.”

In May, 60 senior rabbis signed a letter that said it was “neither the way of the Torah nor of human morality to allow such cruelty to animals.”

Protests in Israel — led by the NGOs Animals (formerly Anonymous for Animal Rights) and Let Animals Live, intensified following an expose in April by Animals Australia, broadcast on Australian TV’s “60 Minutes,” into the appalling conditions in which sheep were shipped to the Middle East on weeks-long journeys.

Likud MK Miki Zohar speaks during an Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, February 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On one of the journeys documented, 2,400 sheep perished and were thrown overboard.

The harrowing scenes, filmed by a concerned whistle-blower working on the vessel, prompted Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to call for a complete halt, or at least a significant reduction, in what he called the “cruel” live shipments of animals from Australia.

Zohar’s bill will now go to committee to be prepared for its first reading in the Knesset.

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