Israel’s Pork Problem and What It Means for the Country’s Christian Arabs

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
Aug. 8 2012 3:45 AM

Israel’s Pork Problem

What a change to one of the most controversial laws in Israeli history could mean for the country’s Christian Arabs.

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"Ibilin farms are wall to wall with one another," Tzachi Lipka, co-founder of Tiv Ta'am, Israel's largest producer and seller of pork, told me. "If one is sick, they all get sick. [Israel has] an open market, which allows for all of these farms to exist."

The recent government panel’s report recommends that Israel move its pig farms to the South where the creatures can have more space, and that Israel adopt “the European [Union] directive on the matter of animal rights.”

Israel could very well enforce stricter standards on its existing farms rather foot the bill to relocate 26 industrial operations, though when asked, the Ministry of Agriculture did not respond to my question on the matter.

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“There is a problem with ecology," Vered acknowledged, "but in a way, most of them [Christian Arab pig farmers] feel that people are using this issue just to attack them because they are pork raisers, not because of concrete ecological problems.”

If the initiative passes, the implications for the fate of Christian Arab local economy would be grave, in a region that has seen its Christian numbers dwindling. Plus, Christian Arabs are unlikely to abandon the villages they’ve populated for generations to relocate to the harsh desert climate.

Egypt set an unfortunate precedent three years ago when under the guise of “a general health measure,” former President Hosni Mubarak gratuitously culled the country’s 300,000 pigs during the swine flu outbreak. The Coptic Christian pig farmers were hit hard in what was seen as a bigoted attack against a vulnerable population.

Ultimately there is a chance that all Israeli pork eaters could be the losers, not just Israel’s Christians. As it stands, the minister of interior must assess the panel’s recommendations and if he accepts them, begin the process of revisiting Israel’s pork laws. Eli Yishai, the minister in question, heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party whose constituents regularly rally for pork to be banned and who criticize Russian Israelis for eating forbidden flesh. Once the law is revised to no longer stipulate that pig farming is legal within Christian zones, banning hog farms completely may be within reach.

The recent report noted that Yishai “not hesitate to deal with the issue, given that pigs are considered the epitome of non-kosher animals,” an indication of the religious biases of the panel.

Of course, even if the pigs were to stay in the North, the area is not without its own fraught history. In the Christian Bible’s account of Jesus’ travels in the Gadarenes, Jesus encounters a man who is overcome with devils. Jesus cures the man by transmitting the devils to a herd of swine, which he then sends to drown to its death in the Sea of Galilee.*

Given the region’s track record, maybe pigs wandering in the Southern desert won’t be so bad after all.

Correction, Aug. 13, 2012: This article incorrectly referred to the man overcome with devils as a legion. It also stated that Jesus transmitted the devils to a swineherd instead of a herd of swine. (Return to the corrected sentences.)

Jeffrey Yoskowitz is a writer based in New York. He edits the blog Pork Memoirs and is writing a book about the Israeli pork industry.

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