Interview with Sasha Boojor on Leadership and the Future of the Animal Liberation Movement
By: Marion Achoulias
Let’s start off with a fun fact: When founder Sasha organized the first branding in Tel Aviv in 2012, he was hard pressed to find 2 intrepid volunteers to undergo the ordeal to raise awareness of the plight of animals in factory farms. But the initial lack of enthusiasm of his fellows didn’t stop him. One activist from Russia was flown in; adventurous enough to burn his own flesh for the cause.
“You can’t just sit around and wait for others to take risks & do the shitty work,” Sasha says with a smile,” You have to fight on the front lines. There is never “the” perfect moment. It’s up to us to create the momentum.” Needless to say, the branding was a media success: lots of young hip folks joined the 269 label that now has gone global. But Sasha is uninterested in fashion trends: “The movement has taken off but I worry that if we don’t continue pushing for new creative ways to do activism, we will become disillusioned and lazy. We have to get off of facebook. We have to stop being so self- congratulatory about every little achievement and think of those still imprisoned in cages and slaughterhouse trucks. “
July 2014. Israel had just entered the war. I was glad to escape the bomb shelter and incessant alarms in Tel Aviv for a day. I took the bus to a secret meeting point where a pick-up truck gave me ride through the sandy hills of Kerem Maharal, Northern Israel for an interview with members of 269 about questions of leadership and activist strategy. No one was to find out about the exact location before the site was entirely secured.
I was brought to the site that was to become a safe haven for animals in distress. As I walk through the garden, I am amazed how green everything is. The sanctuary really makes the desert bloom! Happy puppies play themselves into exhaustion. The first two chickens, rescued from a factory farm, dust- bathe their all-new feathers. Activists work together as an unbreakable team. For a moment I forgot that this idyll is but a small island in a sea of war and slaughterhouses. But Sasha interrupts my day dream: “Tell your North American friends the truth: there is no vegan revolution happening right now in Israel. Far from it. There is no reason to celebrate yet.” No, this is not Sasha’s clinical depression speaking. This is the harsh reality of animal exploitation that haunts the activists even in this paradise. For this sanctuary, activists are taking risks, leaving their old lives, starting anew. Maria is educated in Ayurvedic medicine, sexual health and counselling decided to leave everything behind. Zoe, a young artist from Tel Aviv is investing her life savings in the project. Her dedication is contagious when she says in a confident voice: “For this cause I would give my life”. Would you?
The vision is very much of the 21st century: complete self- sufficiency by the growing of crops for human and non- human animals, including the development of water and energy projects. Even a medicinal herb garden is being planted.” It is extremely important to be independent so we will never have to compromise. The message is clear: we demand an end to all forms of animal exploitation,” stresses Sasha. The project is well-thought through: research was conducted about legal matters and the geography, soil quality, wildlife and cultural surroundings. 269 is working hard to build connections with local villagers, both Jewish and Arab. Yet, safety and peaceful co-existence with wildlife and diverse cultural peoples is expected to be an ongoing concern. There may be some territorial issues due to Bedouins living in the area. And some of the wild animals inhabiting the hills are predatory: snakes, scorpions, wild dogs and wild boars. The large animals’ enclosures are now being secured to protect animal residents from human and non-human intruders. Soon the goats, cows, sheep and chickens will have the option to interact with humans if they wish to do so “on their own terms” or to withdraw and be undisturbed by nosy humans. Another section is reserved for survivors of the vivisection industry such as rats, rabbits and guinea pigs.
But this is not all: 269 Liberation Farm will soon open its doors to activists, artists and AR intellectuals from all over the world to share ideas, design projects, and to learn from one another. There will be an opportunity to contribute and volunteer at the farm as well. I expect the 269 Farm to become a major international Animal Liberation Centre in the Middle East; a major factor in building a global movement built on solidarity, creativity and love of all forms of life. I think of this project as a radical site of encounter: considering the extreme individualism that we North American and European activists have internalized, the farm could serve as an inspiring model: to stop thinking in terms of “I” and to start thinking in terms of community. How powerful we could be if we had the courage to take personal risks, move closer and share our resources. Just imagine the possibilities if we developed vegan collective living arrangements, bought houses together and envisioned vegan streets and villages!!
Thank you 269 for this major push to expand the vegan peace territory!
*I traveled to Israel in the context of my PhD research on Jewish animal rights activism. The goal is to study the “thought behind the action”. I argue against those “moderates” who dismiss 269 as an angry tattooed fringe that ruthlessly commits defamations. From the conversations I had with members I get the impression that 269 should be recognized as a creative and intellectually interesting political movement and counterculture. Why call this a peace initiative? This type animal rights movement knows no boundaries. Arab and Jewish activists work side-by-side at this sanctuary notwithstanding the war that was raging at the time. They refuse to be enemies.
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