But their boots are “faux leather!”: Humanewashing and Israel’s Genocide of the Palestinians

Israel is “leading the vegan revolution around the world”. A recent survey estimated that there are 1 million Israelis (or 13% of the population) not eating meat, including 400 000 vegans. “Vegan tourism” is expanding, as more and more restaurants offer up vegan options for patrons, and encourage vegans from around the world to visit Israel for the food.  Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered his support, remarking in 2012 that “animals are more conscious than we thought, which is bothering me and making me think twice.”

Much of the popularity of veganism in Israel can be attributed to Gary Yourofsky, an animal “abolitionist” whose lectures were a hit in Israel, sparking not only dietary changes amongst the population but an entire animal rights movement, 269life.

Yourofsky and 269life’s focus is on speceism – that’s the breadth of their analysis. As Yourofsky remarked to one of his Israeli audiences on going vegan, “You can keep your friends, your politics and your patriotism.”

Which naturally raises the question: what exactly are Israeli politics and patriotism?

While the history of the region is complex, the general dynamics of Israel-Palestine have been succinctly summarized by Jewish Voices for Peace. It speaks to what is most accurately described as the Israeli colonization of Palestine – which includes the Nakba, or ethnic cleansing of more than 700 000 Palestinians from their homes, the further Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the system of Apartheid that currently exists against Palestinians.

As I am writing this, Palestine is under further attack – this time the slaughter in Gaza (dubbed Operation Protective Edge) has claimed more than 700 Palestinian lives, the majority of them civilians, including the cold-blooded murder of 4 young children who were playing football on a Gaza City beach. There have been more than 4500 Palestinians injured and 260 000 more displaced, as Israel bombs mosques, hospitals, humanitarian vessels and homes. There is no place in Gaza that is safe. It is the world’s largest open-air prison, with all borders, seas, and airspace controlled by Israel and its allies. As the attack continues, there seems to be no end in sight.

In Canada and the United States, support for Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians has been, and continues to be, universally supported across the political establishment. Regardless of the West’s complicity, grassroots movements in solidarity with Palestine have answered the call from Palestinian civil society to engage in the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement. It allows ordinary people from around the world to take action in solidarity with Palestine, and in Canada, the movement is spreading like wildfire – from student unions, to the United Church of Canada, to grassroots campaigns being organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East against companies like SodaStream. The BDS movement is making a deep impact, with some Israeli politicians calling it “the greatest threat faced by the country.”

Which brings us back to veganism and animal rights in Israel.

Israel is using its “vegan revolution” to counter BDS and gloss over the atrocities it is committing against Palestinians. They do this by deliberately deflecting attention away from their human rights abuses and towards “positive” aspects of Israeli society. A form of “humanewashing”, it serves to boost international tourism, while assuaging legitimate disgust and discomfort that otherwise empathetic people (like many vegans)  would feel as a result of Israel’s actions. This humanewashing is an attempt to persuade vegans to break the call to boycott Israel and instead visit for a taste of their vegan cuisine.

To play up a vegan stereotype, we tend to consume a lot of hummus. And falafel. And perhaps you’ve even been lucky enough to have tried maftoul. These are all traditional Palestinian dishes that happen to be vegan, and that have been appropriated by Israel and used in its humanewashing to attract vegan tourists.

Take a moment and let that sink in – in the most bitter of ironies, Israel is appropriating traditional Palestinian cuisine and using it to hinder opposition to the continuing physical appropriation of Palestinian land.

Israel’s humanewashing also relies on the racism that has long existed in the animal advocacy movement. Being White-led and White-dominated, and increasingly organized by professional charities with a speciest focus and no ties to grassroots movements seeking liberation for both human and non-human animals, it is easy to see how Palestine is not a priority. Or how advocates are less likely to be critical of Israel or take a strong stance in support of BDS because of what Israel “is doing for the animals”. More shameful is the outright commending of the IDF for incorporating stipends for vegan meals or “cruelty free” attire – I’m sure the Palestinian child whose face who ends up under that IDF soldier’s boot will be sure to appreciate that it’s “faux-leather”. This racism and dissonance in the animal advocacy movement is dangerous – it reminds me of the outrage expressed in Ontario when marine mammals are kept in captivity, and the deafening silence from those same folks over the prison-industrial complex that sees Black and First Nations peoples incarcerated (or captive) at the highest rates.

Then there are the animal advocates who will be less sympathetic to Palestinians compared to Israelis because Israelis are seen as “more kind” to animals and thus the “moral superior” of the two. When acting in solidarity with the oppressed, one does not “cherry pick” causes based on one’s personal beliefs and the victims’ agreement with said beliefs, but instead recognizes that regardless of personal differences, the systemic oppression occurring must be prioritized and fought against. Or in other words: I don’t care if Palestinians are vegan or not, because it is completely irrelevant to the fact that they are an Indigenous people resisting a colonial power.

This is not to say that non-human animals don’t have inherent worth and that their lives aren’t as precious as human lives. Rather, I am arguing that the prioritizing of specieism over all other forms of oppression is not the way to achieve animal liberation. Yourofsky has it all wrong – if you care about animals, it requires a fundamental restructuring of your politics, recognizing that the gravest threats to animals come through systems of capitalism and colonialism – and understanding how these systems are intertwined and organized through one another.

Lastly, humanewashing highlights the complete and utter dehumanization of the Palestinian people that has occurred. As Netenyahu stated, “animals are more conscious than we thought, which is bothering me and making me think twice…”. I wonder how Netenyahu sees Palestinians, and if their consciousness’ bother him, as the IDF covers Gaza in white phosphorus and flachette shells? Or if Netenyahu “thought twice” after the IDF massacred more than 70 Palestinians in the Shejaia neighbourhood?

Moving forward, animal advocates need to recognize Israel’s usage of animal rights and veganism for what it is – a derailment tactic and an attempted cover-up for ethnic cleansing, colonization, apartheid, and genocide. As more and more die in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli military, and as streets fill with demonstrators voicing their support and taking action for Palestine, your solidarity is needed.

Riaz Sayani-Mulji

About Riaz Sayani-Mulji

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Riaz is living in Toronto while he attends law school, originally from Hamilton. He enjoys playing football (not American!), cuddling with his cat (ain't she the cutest!), and making banana bread.

12 Comments on this post

  1. welp that’ll be the last time I read v-dot. more anti-israel drivel. lol the best part is this article talks about the israel “occupation” of gaza but doesn”t mention hamas, the terrorist organization that controls gaza. nexxxxxxxxxxxt.

    Vince / Reply
    • Hamas is also the legal body elected to represent Gaza and exist because Palestine is occupied by the 4th largest and most powerful military in the world. What we have is a incredibly powerful settler colonial country receiving $8 million a day from the US occupying a country that isn’t allowed to have a military- no planes, no tanks, nothing. Israel is an apartheid, racist state and it is committing genocide against the Palestinians, many of which are trapped in the world largest open air prison (Gaza). An 80% civilian casualty rate is terrorism. Get your facts straight- Israel is the terrorist.

      Halina / (in reply to Vince) Reply
    • but hey if you needed any more proof about who’s the victim, here you go: http://www.countthekids.org/

      Halina / (in reply to Vince) Reply
    • They’ve been killing Palestinians long before Hamas was formed. Nice anachronism.

      Nancy Finkelstein / (in reply to Vince) Reply
    • Riaz Sayani-Mulji

      Hi Vince,

      Thanks for your comment. While there are issues with Hamas (I find the term terrorist to be more of a political smear than factually sound term – it has been used to label Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, etc.) the overarching obstacles to justice in the region lie on the hands of the colonial power. They are powerful who can choose to stop taking Palestinian land, occupying Gaza and the West Bank, etc.


      Riaz Sayani-Mulji / (in reply to Vince) Reply
  2. It’s a shame that this article is focused on how Israel is so bad because of the harm they do to Palestinians (it’s so biased as to refer to Israeli independence day as “the Nakba, or ethnic cleansing of more than 700 000 Palestinians…”). This group should be focused on promoting veganism, instead they have demonized one of the few countries that has taken it so seriously.

    Ben / Reply
    • So, it’s OK to kill people in Vegan ideology but just not animals? Wait, I thought many Israelis viewed Palestinians as animals? So confusing…

      Nancy Finkelstein / (in reply to Ben) Reply
    • Riaz Sayani-Mulji

      Hi Ben,

      While to some Israeli independence day may be a day of celebration, for the Indigenous people (the Palestinians) who lost their homes in the mass ethnic cleansing, it is a day of mourning.

      And as I sketched out in the article, veganism to me is more or less meaningless to the pursuit of justice for all UNLESS it is linked with other struggles and takes on the systems that create the most animal destruction.


      Riaz Sayani-Mulji / (in reply to Ben) Reply
      • At least Israel is witnessing a reduction in animal destruction. What about the Palestinians on Gaza Strip that consistently get live export from Australia and routinely torture the animals that are suffering immensely from the long trips, stab cows and bulls in the eyes, with children looking on and even partaking in these atrocities. As a vegan, I feel if the article truly aimed to relate veganism, justice, and animal destruction, then it should have also taken on the Palestinian system for its mass animal destruction. If only the whole world went vegan for its real philosophy of non-violence against all species.

        Naz Sayani / (in reply to Riaz Sayani-Mulji) Reply
        • Naz, there is plenty of violence meted out to animals in the UK, a lot of it behind the firmly closed doors of vivisection laboratories.

          Hardly a month goes by without yet another expose of farm animals being brutalised during their slaughter and yet despite exposure in the media, most people don’t give a damn and they carry on consuming the corpses of tortured souls.

          How can people who live as the palestinians do have the capacity to care about animals?
          AND are the countries that export the animals to areas knowing full well that they are going to be mistreated just as culpable as those that abuse them? I think so. Where’s your condemnation for them, or do you think they should only sell their animals to those who will kill them ‘humanely’?

          If we are talking about the ‘mass destruction’ of animals let us not look any further than the USA who kill millions of animals, probably more than any country in the world and yet they are regarded as ‘civilised’.

          We UK vegan, abolitionist, anti speciesists have plenty of work to do, let’s start at home.


          Den / (in reply to Naz Sayani) Reply
  3. nobody is innocent here. not palestinians, not israelis. animals, however, are innocent.

    amy / Reply

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