Skip to main content

The Israeli cat transfer scheme

Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel had to retract his scheme to expel street cats to another country and accept the state veterinary plan of sterilizing them.
Anessa, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, walks at the marina after feeding cats in the southern city of Ashkelon December 7, 2009. REUTERS/Amir Cohen (ISRAEL ANIMALS SOCIETY) - RTXRL20
Read in 

This was one of the strangest episodes to emerge from the Israeli government, and in a country where reality sometimes exceeds all imagination, it’s no easy competition. Israeli Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel (HaBayit HaYehudi) decided last November not to pass the budget for spaying and neutering stray cats — a policy experts agree is effective in diminishing their reproduction. Ariel thought that the process violates the Jewish belief that forbids causing pain to animals. Cats in Israel surely breathed a sigh of relief at the minister’s unwillingness to snip their private parts, but the nation of cats certainly wasn’t prepared for the alternatives he proposed. In a letter he sent to Avi Gabbay, the minister of environmental protection, Ariel proposed using the funds for one of two alternatives: research on alternatives to the invasive procedure or — and this is the strange part of the whole story — using “the budget to deport stray dogs and/or cats of one sex (all the males or all the females) to a foreign country that agrees to accept them.” The Israeli public didn’t know whether to laugh or cry and immediately dubbed the episode “the Cat Transfer Plan.”

Online, Israelis couldn’t resist laughing, and for good reason. Raz Tsipris uploaded a meme to Facebook that used the memory of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which Ariel prominently and vocally opposed, stating “a Jew does not expel a Jewish cat,” which echoes the slogan of opponents of the 2005 Gaza disengagement, “A Jew does not expel a Jew.” Others took the issue a bit more seriously and established a protest group on Facebook against “stopping spaying and neutering in the name of Halakhah [Jewish law].” In short, the episode became an amusing/pathetic testimony to the absurd outcomes that the dissonance between religion and healthy reason could lead to. Activists at the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Let the Animals Live wonder today, if Ariel is so concerned with issues of animal rights in Jewish law, why other laws that touch on this issue are being delayed, like inhumane shipping of animals or raising chickens in cages. “There’s a sense that there’s strong adherence to only certain instructions in Jewish law,” attorney Yosi Wolfson of Let the Animals Live said cautiously. On March 15, animal rights day, however, the Ministry of Agriculture published data that shows, according to the ministry, uncompromising action in this field, like advancing relevant legislation such as advocating an amendment to the Animal Welfare bill.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.