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Minister proposes plan to deport country’s strays

Cat scratch fever, or just Jewish law? Opposing sterilization, Uri Ariel lets cat out of bag about shipping some kitties to whatever country will take them

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

A stray cat in the northern city of Haifa. (Photo by Garrett Mills/Flash 90)
A stray cat in the northern city of Haifa. (Photo by Garrett Mills/Flash 90)

Controversial plans for the mass transfer of Palestinian or Arab populations have been the subject of much criticism in the Israeli political arena, but government minister Uri Ariel is facing public uproar for a very different type of “transfer” plan.

Ariel, minister of agriculture and rural development, is pushing a scheme to deal with Israel’s stray cat and dog population by transferring the feral animals to another country, or at least one gender of them.

The reason: spaying and neutering the lot goes against Jewish law.

In a letter to the Environmental Protection Ministry, the modern-day anti-Noah asked that the annual 4.5 million shekel budget allocated to deal with stray animals be used to “transfer dogs and cats of a single gender (all the males or females) to a foreign country that is willing to accept them.”

The issue of stray animals falls under the auspices of both the Environmental Protection and Agriculture ministries. In recent years the latter has undertaken a mass program of sterilization in an effort to stem the growth of the street cat population. To this date over 100,000 cats have been neutered or sterilized by local councils.

Uri Ariel (Flash90)
Uri Ariel (Flash90)

Ariel, who hails from the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, is opposed to the practice of sterilization on halachic (Jewish law) grounds. According to rabbinic responsa on the issue, it is prohibited for Jews to remove reproductive function from animals.

In recent years Ariel has received praise from animal rights groups for a number of projects he has initiated including a recent effort against reported animal cruelty during the slaughtering process. But activists have hit back at his opposition to sterilization, saying it is the best way to prevent uncontrolled population growth.

There is no clear data on the size of Israel’s feral cat population but Meow Mission, a leading NGO dealing with stray cats, puts estimates at around 2 million.

Stray cats eating near a garbage container in the center of Jerusalem. October 23, 2014. (Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Stray cats eating near a garbage container in the center of Jerusalem. October 23, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon expressed her opposition to the plan in a Facebook post Monday morning, indicating she would like to transfer Ariel. “I do not know if there is a halachic ruling on the matter, but when the minister responsible for animal welfare puts forward a proposal that conflicts with any basic morality, it is time to look for a foreign country that would agree to take him,” she wrote.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister, posted a picture of her and her cat, saying she would not be getting a passport for her feline friend.

אין מצב שמוציאה לפיצקלה דרכון זר

Posted by ‎Tzipi Livni – ציפי לבני‎ on Monday, November 2, 2015

Local folklore has it that the British are to blame for Israel’s stray cat population, having brought cats in during the period of the Mandate in order to get rid of rats.

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