On its surface, last week’s ruling by Greece’s highest court to prohibit shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter) is a domestic political issue in which Israel should not interfere.
Eight European countries have already banned shechita (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Slovenia, and Estonia), and Israel has kept quiet.
Should Israel concern itself at all with the welfare of Diaspora Jewry?
As the French statesman Gen. Charles de Gaulle pointed out, nations have no friends, only interests.
Indeed, Israel has concrete interests vis-à-vis Greece: a strategic military alliance, cooperation in the energy sphere, a cheap and readily available destination for beach-and-scenery-loving tourists; support for Israel in European Union votes; and many others.
On the other hand, the once-glorious Greek Jewish community has dwindled into a shadow of its former self.
Unsurprisingly, the animal rights lobby won out over the pro-Jewish lobby, which doesn’t actually exist. The few local Jews who observe kashrut will have to become vegetarians, emigrate, or import kosher meat, which has not yet been forbidden to them.
If the harm done is minimal, and if Israel has good reasons not to jeopardize its diplomatic relations with a friendly nation, why should this ruling set off alarm bells?
An attack on Jewish life in the name of liberal values
In order to grasp the severity of what the Greek legislation represents, we have to understand how it fits into an ongoing incremental process that will, ultimately, make organized Jewish life impossible.
Although classical liberalism, with its focus on social justice and individual rights, benefited Jews in the past, the “progressive” activists now attacking Jewish particularism are harming the Jews out of a limited grasp of what it means to be “enlightened.” The damage they inflict goes beyond issues of shechita and brit milah (the covenant of circumcision); they are also assailing Jewish burial (out of environmental concerns) and Jewish schools (on charges of ethnic discrimination and gender segregation).
Last summer, Belgium banned shechita, and discussions are now underway about legislation that would prohibit brit milah there, on the basis of children’s rights claims. Opinion polls show support for such a ban across Europe. Until now, only Slovenia has legislated such a prohibition, but legal efforts to do so continue in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and, as noted, Belgium. The anti-circumcision movement is very active and not expected to abate anytime soon.
Ultimately, if the Jewish people does not take countermeasures, brit milah bans will likely be enacted. And, as with shechita, if one prohibition is successfully legislated, others will follow.
In general, societies characterized by growing secularism display strong anti-religious sentiment. The Council of Europe has declared that all member states should “require religious leaders to take an unequivocal stand in favor of advancing human rights [...] over any other religious principle.”
Hypocrisy, internal contradictions and cultural preconceptions
Even if we assume, for the moment, that the intentions of the “progressives” are in no way tainted by antisemitism (a highly dubious assumption), it is clear that they do harbor Eurocentric cultural assumptions.
We can point out, for instance, that hunting, which results in the cruel murder of hundreds of thousands of animals each year, has not been banned by any European country – yet shechita, which allows a few hundred Greek Jews to perpetuate their tradition, has been outlawed.
Lacking sensitivity to, or empathy for, non-European cultures, these “progressives” are unable to understand why Jews insist on ritual slaughter without stunning, or that the infant’s foreskin be removed when he is precisely eight days old.
Lacking an understanding of the place of Halacha (Jewish law) in Jewish life, they are unable to heed the community leaders who warn that “bans on brit milah will force the Jews to leave Europe,” and that the practical outcome of such legislation would be “cultural genocide.”
Those Jews most committed to their identity will abandon the continent, while others will avoid calling attention to their Jewishness; the organized communities will, essentially, cease to function.
This is all the more surreal when we consider that just a few weeks ago, at the dedication of a museum memorializing the illustrious Thessalonian Jewish community, which was completely destroyed in the Holocaust, the Greek politician and European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas promised that Europe would spare no effort to promote the resurgence of full Jewish life on the continent.
Calling upon the Israeli government to intervene
Although Israel has a moral duty, based on its Declaration of Independence and Article 6 of the Nation-State Law, which has constitutional force, to ensure the safety of Jews in the Diaspora, it has not addressed the new Greek legislation.
The Jewish state has shown itself willing and able to rescue Jews in immediate life-threatening danger – an important obligation reserved for emergency situations. The current danger is more spiritual and cultural than physical, meaning that Israel could, theoretically, turn a blind eye, as it has in the past.
But in light of the developments currently underway in Europe, and which are starting to spread to North America, Israel would do well to consider mounting an intelligent and effective intervention.
The late Shimon Peres sent Angela Merkel and the head of the European Union personal letters that persuaded them to reverse decisions to ban brit milah, and American politicians convinced Iceland and Norway to abolish restrictions on Jewish life.
Israel, given its good relations with Greece, should utilize the appropriate communication channels to request that the Greek government intervene and reverse the ruling.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. He coordinates its activity on countering antisemitism and promoting the continuity of Jewish communal life in Europe.