(JTA) – Israeli Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel has backpedaled on his controversial recommendation that Israel’s population of stray cats be transferred to a foreign country in order to control their numbers in a way that accords with Jewish law.
In response to the mass derision of his recommendation, Ariel has maintained his decision that the Environmental Protection Ministry will no longer spend its budget on spaying and neutering stray animals. However, the money will now be spent on research into the stray animals instead of a population transfer, Haaretz reported. The neutering budget amounts to 4.5 million Israeli shekels annually, or approximately $1.1 million.
Ariel, a member of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, has reportedly said that he cannot support the neutering program because it goes against his beliefs.
An Israeli animal rights nonprofit called Let Animals Live is expected to protest the decision on not paying to spay and neuter the strays at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Haaretz reported.
Ariel provoked fierce criticism and mockery after he sent a letter to Israel’s environmental protection minister arguing that a population transfer of Israel’s stray cats to a foreign country was a way of controlling their numbers more in line with Jewish law than neutering them. Ariel based his conclusion on the biblical commandment to “go forth and multiply in the land of Israel,” Ynet reported.
Ariel’s recommendation was widely condemned both by Environmental Ministry officials and by fellow politicians. Knesset member Tamar Zandberg of the left wing Meretz party was prompted to send a letter to Ariel that said “spaying and neutering street cats is the only action being taken to prevent uncontrolled growth, and preserve the health of the stray population. Ending this program will allow for a spike in the number of stray kittens being born every year, which will increase the number of cats which will die of hunger, thirst, cold, dehydration and more.”
On Monday, Tzipi Livni of the opposition’s centre-left Zionist Union party responded to Ariel by posting a picture on Facebook of her playing with a black-and-white cat.
“No way will I get a foreign passport for little one,” the photo’s caption reads.