LONDON – The United Kingdom Independence Party has got itself into a complete pickle over whether it will seek to ban shechita and halal methods of animal slaughter, a senior Jewish leader told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Earlier this week, the party’s National Executive Committee, acting independently of party leader Nigel Farage, unexpectedly decided to demand that in future all animals slaughtered in the UK must be stunned prior to being killed, a procedure forbidden under Jewish laws of shechita and not accepted by many Muslims following the rules of halal.
According to a party source, the change was initiated by one of its members, without consulting the party leadership, who pushed his arguments through, giving other committee members neither the time nor the opportunity to understand the ramifications.
Announcing its policy, the party said: “Animal and veterinary science has long concluded that cutting the throats of animals whilst they are fully conscious can cause significant distress and pain, and we see no reason why religious groups should not take into account the concerns of animal welfare when carrying out slaughter.”
The party said it would prefer animals to be stunned before slaughter, although the party should “respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat in accordance with their beliefs.”
“It’s about time someone stood up for the rights of the silent majority in the ethical treatment of animals, instead of bowing down to those who shout the loudest,” the party said.
Previously, to a Jewish audience in northwest London in 2013, Farage made clear the party would not alter current laws which grant exemption to both Jews and Muslims from the UK’s requirement for all animals to be prestunned.
The party’s agriculture spokesman, Stuart Agnew, who is also an MEP, emphasized that the new policy is not aimed at the Jewish community.
“It’s aimed elsewhere – it’s aimed at others. You’ve been caught in the cross fire; collateral damage. You know what I mean.”
But realizing the potential effect the decision would have, he acknowledged: “We will obviously now lose the Jewish vote.”
However, it now appears that the party leadership is having second thoughts, and attempts are rumored to be under way to reverse the decision, which, according to Shimon Cohen, the director of Shechita UK, currently makes the Independence party (UKIP) the only national political party in the UK with a policy to effectively call for a ban on shechita and halal.
Cohen added “By joining the campaign to prioritize animal welfare over the rights and beliefs of the UK’s faith communities, UKIP has returned to the fringes of mainstream politics.”
He said that some of UKIPs party leadership were good friends of the Jewish community, “but their party remains dogged by a membership motivated by intolerance and bigotry.”
Behind the scenes discussions have been conducted since the committee vote to explore ways to deal with the political fallout. A number of senior UKIP members have already voiced their strong opposition to the changed policy, and at least one candidate in May’s general election has threatened to resign if the policy is not reversed.
UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall (also an MEP) expressed his surprise at the ban, though he suggested that shechita probably would not be affected by the party decision.
“Shechita is very prescriptive and therefore standards are highly consistent, including, for example, crucial detail such as the sharpness of the knife. I am not an expert. However, if this is the case and shechita does not cause any undue suffering for the animal, then it would fall within the requirements that UKIP has in mind.”
Nuttall confirmed that the party has been approached by leading figures within the Muslim and Jewish communities who have asked to discuss the new policy.
UKIP, he said, is more than willing to open consultation with both animal welfare and veterinarian organizations, as well as seek advice from bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Meanwhile UKIP candidate Jeremy Zeid, who intends to contest the predominantly Jewish constituency of Hendon, northwest London, has threatened to resign, having described the UKIP announcement a “monumental mistake.”
“If it’s not reversed, if they insist, if they enforce pre-stunning, I would have to leave. If there was a ban on shechita and brit mila, I would resign immediately, he said, adding: “If I don’t stand up for fellow Jews, who else is going to?”