Polish ethics

Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in the snow (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in the snow
The Poles just can’t seem to stop offending Jews. Last month, Polish lawmakers passed a law that seeks to whitewash Poles’ involvement in the Naziled destruction of more than three million Polish Jews during World War II. They did it just days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, compounding the emotional impact of the move.
Now the Poles are at it again.
The Polish parliament is preparing to vote on a bill that seeks to limit the export of kosher meat and which could also make the performance of kosher slaughter difficult, if not impossible, according to the European Jewish Association.
This is not the first time the Poles have targeted shechita or kosher slaughtering methods. The practice was banned by lawmakers in 2013 but a High Court ruling overruled that ban in 2014 because it unlawfully limited religious freedom.
But the Poles just can’t seem to let well alone. The latest Polish legislative move follows a familiar pattern that has been played out across Europe over the past decade or so. Both ritual slaughter and circumcision have come under attack for a variety of reasons.
Groups on the Right have called to ban these practices as a means of lashing out against Muslims and their “foreign” culture. Even strong supporters of Israel such as the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders have targeted ritual slaughter. And France’s National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, who has done much to distance her party from antisemitic figures including her father, has nevertheless called to ban the wearing of kippot in public places. “Obviously, if the veil is banned, the kippa [should be] banned in public as well,” Le Pen said in 2012.
Apparently the Right believes that alienating Europe’s religious Jews is a small price to pay for fostering an anti-Muslim atmosphere that might discourage Muslim immigration.
On the Left, meanwhile, it is more common to cite lofty ethical principles as a justification for banning ancient traditions such as circumcision and ritual slaughter, though the Right does this as well. In 2013, for instance, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a body composed of five left-wing political organizations, identified circumcision as a violation of boy’s “physical integrity.” And when Denmark banned ritual slaughter in 2014, the motivation was the protection of animal rights.
But a visceral hatred of religion – including of the Jewish variety – is inevitably a motivating factor as well. Attempts to regulate the brutal pig farming industry lacks the zeal that characterizes campaigns against ritual slaughter. Both can be made more humane; neither needs to be banned.
Poland’s attempts to ban or limit ritual slaughter seem to have little to do with a real concern about an influx of Muslim immigrants. Muslims make up just 0.1% of the Polish population, or around 35,000 people, including indigenous Polish Muslims such as Tatars and converts.
And ethical concerns are no more convincing. How does Poland, a nation that was the site of the massacre of the largest Jewish community in Europe and that seeks to block free debate about the Polish people’s role in that massacre, find the audacity to tout a heightened moral sensitivity as justification for a policy that severely restricts the religious freedoms of a now minuscule Jewish community?
This is a country, mind you, that, the last time we checked, permits sport hunting.
The reality is that Europe is once again becoming an increasingly inhospitable place for Jews. Jews are either the victims of Islamist-inspired violence, or of the collateral damage of Europeans’ fumbled attempts to react to the largely unchecked influx of Muslim immigrants. Throw in a good measure of old-fashioned antisemitism and you get a toxic mix.
Just over seven decades after the end of World War II, it seems that little has been learned. And this is only natural when Poland seeks to pass laws that restrict, instead of encourage, debate about the German-led genocide of European Jewry. Today Poland, which was the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka – the six most infamous Nazi-built concentration camps of the Holocaust – should be the last place where Jews are made to feel less than welcome.