Last Friday, more than 1,000 animal rights activists marched together for veganism in the city of Haifa, Israel, under the title “We Are All Their Voice: Coming Together for the Animals”.
Organized by both Arab and Jewish animal rights activists, the march marked a meaningful highlight in a continuous collaboration between the two communities in the north of Israel, where vegan activists have been working together over the last couple of years.
The march, to which 2,500 people originally RSVP-ed, had three clear stated goals: to raise public awareness of the suffering of farm animals, to boost vegan activity in the north of Israel, and to create a large-scale event allowing the two communities to come together in full and equal collaboration.
Interview with two of the organizers of the Jewish-Arab march
The Vegan Woman had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing two of the event’s organizers — Sharbel Balloutine, a leading vegan advocate, author, and the founder of the Arab animal rights organization “The Vegan Human”, and Shlomi Hillel, a prominent vegan animal rights activist and the former leader of “The Vegan North”. Here is what they had to say about this fruitful Jewish-Arab collaboration around veganism and animal rights:
Sharbel and Shlomi, first of all congratulations on a successful event. I’m sure you know that this collaboration inspires others around the world and gives many of us hope, both for veganism and for future peaceful collaborations.
Can you perhaps share some information in regards to the Arab-Jewish collaboration that brought about this successful march last Friday?
Shlomi: “Of course. Vegan activism has been in the works in the north of Israel for over 10 years now. In its beginning, it was mostly centered around engagement with the greater public through means such as handouts and information stands. In 2012, we formed a group called “The Vegan North”, and with social media coming into play, it became easier to effectively organize events and reach new potential activists. Our activism grew to include meat-outs, displays, demonstrations, and also social activities.
“In addition to our activities, a large Arab animal rights group, which is known today as ‘The Vegan Human’, started operating in the north of Israel under the inspirational leadership of Sharbel. From the early stages of their activity, a close collaboration was formed between the two groups, which included joint demonstrations in Arab and Jewish towns, and close friendships were formed between the vegan activists of the two groups; some of them led to the successful march which took place last Friday, among other blessed collaborations.”
Do you find that the differences in religion, cultures, and politics cause tensions throughout your activism? If so, how do you deal with such tensions, and what is the message you are trying to convey?
Sharbel: “We actually experience very little tensions in our joint activities, and when tensions do rise, we make a point of reminding ourselves how important it is for us to come together and focus on helping the most exploited beings on our planet: the animals.
“The march we produced this past Friday was a great example of that: Jews and Arabs coming together to state that the lives of all men and women are equal and that each of us is worth the entire world. That each cow is worth the entire world, that each pig is worth the entire world, just like every other living being with blood in their veins, with the ability to breathe and the ability to suffer and to love. We aim to change people’s distorted perception that one sentient being is worth more than another; that just because someone is weaker, it is OK to exploit them.
“People might be resistant to this message, but we are working together to ensure that this message will be heard. As long as they are suffering, we will continue to serve as their voice.”
Was the march successful in your eyes?
Shlomi: “The march was an extraordinary, moving and unique event, which I am very honored and proud to have been part of. It’s difficult to assess how much effect it actually had, but at the same time, you just can’t overestimate the importance of such collaboration, which demonstrates that literally everyone can come together to promote justice and ethical principles that should be common to us all. The way I see it, issues of animal rights are direct extensions of human rights, and by promoting these issues we also promote values of justice, compassion, and peace. I believe the march reflected these values and will be marked in our collective memory as a movement for a very long time.”
If you were to leave our readers with one message, what would that be?
Sharbel: “Every soul taken by violence, violates all humanity.”
Shlomi: “There is no justification for animal exploitation. If you believe that killing and inflicting unnecessary suffering is wrong, then you, too, should go vegan.”
Thank you, Sharbel and Shlomi, for an inspirational interview and all the great work you and the other vegan activists are promoting. May your message reach far and wide and touch the hearts and minds of many.
Cover image:Omer Shalev