A slaughterer cuts beef carcasses into pieces in the Biernacki Meat Plant slaughterhouse in Golina near Jarocin, western Poland July 17, 2013..
(photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)
Last week, a new law went into effect in Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, banning shechita, kosher slaughter. A similar law will go into effect in southern region of Wallonia in September, covering the entire country.
The law states that animals must be stunned before slaughter. Jewish law stipulates that meat can only be kosher if the animal was healthy before being slaughtered, and stunning constitutes an injury rendering the meat no longer kosher. The law also in effect bans on slaughter according to Islamic law, as well as the Hindu and Sikh methods of meat production.
Antwerp, in Flanders, is home to Europe’s largest Orthodox Jewish community, which will now have to import its meat from countries that have not yet banned shechita. Neighboring France, home to Europe’s largest – but dwindling – Jewish population, will likely experience a boom in its kosher businesses.
The impact of the Belgian kosher ban will go far beyond its local Jewish communities. Swedish journalist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein took to social media last week to lament that she can no longer have meat shipped in from her usual source: “I’m looking for a new kosher butcher/supermarket that delivers to Sweden,” she tweeted, calling herself “a Jew in Europe who LITERALLY just wants to live a Jewish life, but Europe seems to have other plans.”
Many other Jews around Europe will be similarly impacted.
Many of the replies to Hernroth-Rothstein’s tweet were telling her to move to Israel. While that would be one way to get easy access to kosher meat, those responses are missing the point. All Jews are and should be welcome to live freely in Israel, but that does not give other countries a carte blanche to discriminate against their Jewish citizens. This Belgian ban on kosher slaughter is illiberal and oppressive, and a blatant impingement on the religious and human rights of that country’s minorities.
This law, like many others proposed and passed in Europe, was written on the basis of humane treatment of animals, but a generous dose of anti-Muslim sentiment helped steward it into the law books. The government in Belgium recently fell apart as a result of a dispute over its refugee policy, so issues related to minorities are a hot topic in Brussels and Antwerp. As often happens when xenophobia spreads on the Continent, even when it’s not originally meant to target Jews, they suffer the consequences.
Of course, bans on shechita have historically meant to target Jews as well. There is a long tradition of European antisemites using animal rights to ban kosher slaughter. In Switzerland, which uses a system of referendums to decide on individual policies, the first such vote was on banning shechita, which was prohibited federally in 1893. Norway banned slaughter without stunning in 1929, and Sweden followed in 1937. And, of course, Nazi Germany instituted such a ban, which spread to its Axis allies Italy and Hungary; all three were overturned. Today’s ban is being imposed despite the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom guaranteeing “the right to freedom... to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance,” which “shall be subject only to such limitations as... are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms or others.”
There seems to be a contradiction between the guarantee of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe and the new bans on kosher slaughter.
In fact, the only way to understand the current situation is that, in banning shechita, these EU states are saying it is a reasonable interpretation of the law to consider protecting the age-old traditions and religious rights of Jews, Muslims and other minorities to be a lower national priority. These states claim to be taking a moral stand, when in fact, all they’ve done is the exact opposite, the immoral and undemocratic act of violating their citizens’ basic freedom of conscience.
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