The Rise of Vegan Culture in Israel: Interview with Ikey Greene

Ikey Greene

Ikey Greene, web marketer, animal rights and vegan “correspondent” for Free from Harm in Israel

Ikey Greene is a social media and web marketing specialist who has a passion for animal rights and veganism and is locked into the pulse of the burgeoning vegan scene in Israel. Here is our interview with her.

What should we Americans know about the vegan/animal rights movement in Israel?

The animal rights movement in Israel has been around for at least two decades. There was much PR, lobbyism and advocacy work, but I felt that in the last few years it has been dormant, going more in a direction of welfarism. I guess many activists just felt so frustrated with the situation, they wanted to make even the smallest dent, just to help in any way. Some told me that after visiting farms they realized the horror of it and decided to fight for better conditions, a bigger cage, protective laws, anything. I find that welfarism achieves that exact opposite and stay away from any welfarist campaign, so it saddened me to see activists heading this way. While I nearly gave up on the Israeli movement, a deep change was happening and during the last year or so people are going vegan like never before. Much of it has to do with the [Gary] Yourofsky’s speech, which I will later go into, but I believe it’s more than that. I think it’s this overwhelming wave of the social justice movement that is taking over Israel as well (finally!). If last summer people demonstrated quietly against capitalism, this summer social justice demonstrations are much more active. Most importantly, people are beginning to understand that social justice is not just about your rent, it’s much deeper than that. Real change is about making social justice for everyone, any gender, sexual orientation, race or species. Many people I know demonstrated for social justice last summer, but weren’t vegan. This summer they are, and they call for justice for all animals. This is how the social revolution in Israel is evolving and I hope we’ll be seeing this kind of transformation in other countries.

How does it compare with that in the US and Europe?

When I think about the US, I see wonderful organizations like Free from Harm, farm sanctuaries, vegan blogs and so much amazing work being done for non-human animals. I also have to think of PETA, though. I became vegan ten years ago and I have to thank them for that, but their sexist and welfarist campaigns only aggravates the situation, in my opinion. There is so much more to say about welfarist organizations, but I’ll save it for another time…. In Europe I’d say Spanish groups are really leading the AR movement. They run shocking demonstrations and produce heart-breaking direct-action videos of animals taking their first steps of freedom. The Spanish AR groups are an inspiration. I think they are a step ahead of everything else right now. Germany, where I live, is also very advanced in many ways and Berlin is a vegan paradise. What I’ve noticed and really appreciate is that German AR groups talk against speciesism as well as against racism and sexism, something that Israelis have trouble with, knowing every debate escalates into a terrible political fight. The difference between the Israeli campaigns to those in other countries is that in Israel the major changes came from individuals, not groups or organizations. They are not on a payroll, they are just people who want to make a difference. That’s what I love about all the recent Israeli AR campaigns. They start because people open their eyes, decide to change, to go vegan and work hard on bringing the facts to the public. Israelis are hotblooded, very emotional, passionate. So when they work for the “good side” it’s really a great thing. Unfortunately, there is still much to do in terms of sanctuaries, shelters and educational programs. People should really get the importance of spaying and neutering because the situation there for dogs and cats is dire. In the South [part of Israel] there isn’t really a decent shelter, and dogs die on the street all the time. It’s so primitive and shocking. I think that’s the other side of being extremely passionate, it could also mean chaos. Spaying and neutering is important in any country, of course, because dogs and cats just get picked up by the state or city and get euthanized. It’s just not seen by the pubic. Still, I want to believe it’s all heading in a better direction.

Who are the leading figures that you believe have been most influential in this movement?

I would say that the most influential figure is actually an American. His name is Gary Yourofsky and he did more for the vegan movement in Israel during this past year than a decade of AR work. His speech created thousands of “Gary-babies” – people who watched his speech and couldn’t go back to eating animals and their products. Behind the Israeli campaign there are two amazing people who run “Animal Log” (http://www.animal-tv.org) and invest much of their time in bringing Yourofsky’s video to the public. They run outstanding virtual campaigns on Facebook and around the net, PPC campaigns, print materiel and special cooperations such as printing a QR code on tofu packages, linking to the Israeli Yourofsky site. The numbers are unbelievable: With over 250,000 views, it is the most viewed YouTube speech in Israel. Ever. There are almost 12,000 fans on the Israeli campaign FB page. If you consider the size of the population, it is a very high figure. The speech is truly life-changing, but it reached such high numbers thanks to the work of Animal Log. If you check the Google searches for the word “veganism” (in Hebrew) there was a giant leap after the subtitled speech aired back in April 2011.

One of the most crucial of the “Gary-Babies” is Ori Shavit, a food critique who went vegan after watching the speech. She is running an extremely popular food blog (http://gary-tv.com/en) and is practically everywhere on the media, talking about veganism with much charisma and enthusiasm. She gets famous chefs to cook gourmet meals in fancy restaurants and is working on getting places to add vegan dishes to their menus. I contacted her back in November, to see if I can help promote her blog but instead we created something new. Together with three other people, we started our new Facebook page: Trend for Life. It was a preemptive strike, knowing the media will call veganism a “passing trend.” We all agreed that we must make veganism something more approachable, more fun and “cool.” We always laugh that people perceive vegans as sprouts-eating-hippies…. That’s why we created two videos (http://goo.gl/pnnd5), showing that vegans can be doctors, teachers, high-tech geeks or whatever. They can also be sprouts-eating-hippies, of course. :) We update the page with positive posts, articles related to the farm industry, to food, health, etc. and always keep veganism as the moral baseline. If Yourofsky’s speech turned people vegan, we want to make sure they stay vegan. We achieve that by speaking clearly about veganism, as opposed to vegetarianism or welfarism, etc. Veganism is the right and only way to go. We also manage a small FB group, of about 150 members, where we get new ideas for campaigns and debate AR.

So to sum it up, it was Yourofsky’s speech, along with much PR work done by individuals, that brought veganism into the mainstream.

Do you believe that there are any cultural / religious circumstances that might make Israelis more receptive to veganism or animal rights? If so, what are they?

I wouldn’t say that religion is a great contributor to animal rights, it’s quite the opposite. Primitive religious ceremonies still take place each year and thousands of chickens are killed during that time. It’s completely redundant and absurd. Just another way animals are exploited today.

On the other hand, I think that because Israelis like an honest, “cut the crap” attitude, they are very receptive to certain videos and words. It’s not an easy place to live in, and many feel that there is no place to talk about non-human animals when there is a war going on, which is ridiculous, of course. A very Israeli attitude is making sure no one is “screwing you over” or that they might be missing out on something. So if you try to market AR as a secret they don’t know about, that the government is not telling them, it really works. A while back, a video was released online called “The Dairy Lie.” It got more than 200,000 views in about ten days. It’s basically a pretty crudely edited video, where different doctors talk about how bad dairy is from a health perspective. It was linked from lines such as: “Still believe in that lie?” and “You are being lied to.” It was genius. This is a great example of private individuals who made an extraordinary impact by sitting at home, editing a video and uploading it to YouTube. It was everywhere. So if we produce and market the right content — honest, “in your face” kind of stuff, we really manage to get people’s attention.

Are there any festivals/conferences/events that help promote these causes?

There are many events: lectures, meat-outs and milk-outs, amazing volunteers that take time to prepare food and go out and talk to people about veganism. I used to do that years ago, outreach work, it was so hard. I really admire people who do that, I don’t mean it in an arrogant way, it can really wear you out. Israelis are intensely active on Facebook and there are many vegan FB groups [from which] to get help, support and an introduction to animal rights.

What is your involvement on the level of advocacy in these causes?

Well, being a geek, I do everything online. I help with the Yourofsky campaign, co-manage the Trend for Life page etc. There are so many things you can do online to promote animal rights. I love getting emails from people saying they read what I wrote on Facebook or in my blog, finally watched Yourofsky’s video and are going vegan. I always try to check up on them, first giving them a list of resources for shopping, cooking, educating themselves and then seeing if they need help or advice later on. Each “you helped me become vegan” mail is worth the endless wars I fight online with ignorant people who claim humans are carnivores or cows are tasty because god made them tasty and so fourth. It’s exasperating, but it’s a part of the revolution. I love having the opportunity to communicate and reach such a vast audience, in English or Hebrew, no matter where I live. A few weeks ago I saw a picture of a cow in the milk industry, it really broke my heart. Some pictures just get to you more than others. I posted it and wrote how it made me feel. I was angry. The picture, along with what I wrote, was reposted thousands of times and viewed by more than 10,000 people. That’s the power of social networks. Along with all the nonsense out there, I try to use it for good. A very different Gary, Gary Francione, always says: “Never miss an opportunity to talk about veganism.” I never do.

How does this advocacy work intersect with your business Greene Works?

GreeneWorks is all about online marketing and PR, so I use my experience to promote animal rights. My dream is to work solely with vegan companies and individuals and since these kinds of work can be done from anywhere that has WiFi, I hope this dream will soon come true.

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7 comments

  1. Very interesting to hear where other countries are on the path as a group – I understand there are always differences within groups – Thank you for the article – it’s got me listening to the Yourofsky speech.

  2. Very interesting, thank you. We make our first trip to Israel in two months, for my son’s wedding in Haifa. They claim it’s hard and expensive to be vegan in Israel, but I doubted that. I’ll be sending them some of this info.
    Please, let’s avoid the abolition/welfarist divide. In my heart, I wish for abolition. I, too, was made veg by PeTA, so I can’t hate on them too much although I agree they are a terrible group. But I have good friends who work for HSUS and other groups, and I do believe the welfare improvements have made for significantly less suffering for 100s of thousands of animals. Let’s all do all we can to make the world vegan; and until we get closer to that, let’s also try to create less suffering for the victims.

  3. Gary Francione via The Abolitionist Approach dot com is a great place to go. He is on FB as well. Thanks for all your great efforts.

  4. I am puzzled as to why being vegan in Isreal is expensive. How about lentils, avocado sandwiches, dried peas, beans of all sorts–in cans, fresh & dried, all the fruits and vegetables. You don’t have to search for ready-made items. Pasta with tomato sauce and fried eggplant slices on top (Sicilian style) are some of the many ideas..

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