The European Union has not banned kosher slaughter

The myth that the EU has outlawed Jewish religious practices continues to reverberate.

DEMONSTRATORS WEAR a sheep and a cow mask to protest kosher and halal slaughter, at the German Chancellery in Berlin in 2012. (photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)
DEMONSTRATORS WEAR a sheep and a cow mask to protest kosher and halal slaughter, at the German Chancellery in Berlin in 2012.
(photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)
Ever since the European Court of Justice handed down its ruling regarding kosher and halal slaughter last month, headlines have claimed that the European Union is banning slaughter. It’s being alleged that the EU is outlawing Jewish religious customs, thus sending the signal that Jews are no longer welcome in Europe. That is, of course, not the case. In fact, the EU is and will remain fully committed to help Jewish life flourish on our continent, while commercialization of kosher meat remains legal across the entire EU.
Current EU legislation allows for kosher and halal slaughter, often referred to as “ritual slaughter.” But national governments have broad discretion regarding the need to reconcile animal welfare and safeguarding freedom of religion, which includes the possibility to practice one’s religion. Where to draw the line is a matter of heated debate among Europeans, and the judges of the EJC decided to leave the answer to this sensitive question to the EU’s 27 member states.
The EJC’s December 17 ruling upheld the 2017 decree by the Flemish government to ban ritual slaughter without stunning, as required by most interpretations of Jewish law, but stressed that stricter national rules on ritual slaughter have to be proportionate and must adequately consider freedom of religion and belief guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The ruling caused frustration to the Jewish and Muslim communities. The EU is based on democracy and the rule of law, and we are committed to upholding all decisions of the court, which has the sole authority to interpret the law. Still, the EU remains fully committed to guaranteeing that Jewish life continues to flourish, and that every single Jew feels at home or welcome in Europe.
As the Council of the European Union concluded last month, “We are grateful that 75 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life, in all its diversity, is deeply rooted and thriving again in Europe. It is our permanent, shared responsibility to actively protect and support Jewish life.”
And yet, the myth that the EU has outlawed Jewish religious practices continues to reverberate, and this type of disinformation, either because of inaccuracy or expediency, does a disservice to the promotion of Jewish life and the fight against antisemitism, two goals the EU will pursue with increasing vigor and determination. In 2021, the European Commission will issue the first-ever comprehensive EU strategy on combating antisemitism, which is currently being developed.
We have long put our money where our mouths are, funding numerous projects to help secure Jewish institutions and restore Jewish heritage sites.
TO NAME just a few examples, last year the commission earmarked more than NIS 45 million for projects to improve the protection of places of worship, which includes synagogues, a call currently under evaluation.
The EU provides the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative with substantial financial support, using engineering drones and 3D models to restore and preserve hundreds of Jewish burial sites across Eastern Europe. The initiative’s latest project includes a new program of educational outreach events, including socially innovative actions with residents, communities and schools.
We also fund the Jewish Digital Cultural Recovery Project, which is developing a comprehensive database of Jewish-owned cultural assets ransacked by the Nazis, as well as more than NIS 35 million for the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure, which seeks to deepen the integration of Holocaust archives and research.
We strongly reject the suggestion that the European Court of Justice is motivated by antisemitic sentiments. The fact that the EU is fully committed to Jewish life, including the fight against antisemitism, has been acknowledged by Israeli authorities and Jewish groups worldwide.
On January 8, after the European Commission issued a handbook for the practical use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the Foreign Ministry expressed appreciation for Brussels’s “uncompromising commitment to fight against the ugly and dangerous phenomenon of antisemitism.”
Last month, the ministry applauded the Council of the EU’s conclusions as a “decisive position against the phenomenon of antisemitism.” Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich thanked the EU “for recognizing the threat of rising antisemitism to Jewish life and for their deep commitment to ensure its future.” World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder hailed the Council’s declaration as “a significant step forward in making Europe a better place for Jews.”
Still, we need to remain attentive to the Jewish community’s worries about its religious traditions. European Muslims are also affected by the December 17 court decision, which may present opportunities for a Jewish-Muslim partnership to explore, together with the EU and competent authorities, possible solutions that guarantee freedom of religion while also minimizing unnecessary suffering to animals.
To this end, the European Commission is in constant dialogue with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss all their concerns. The debate over the right balance between animal welfare and freedom of religion will continue within our societies. The sincere and unwavering commitment to fostering Jewish life in Europe remains non-negotiable for us.
The writer is the EU ambassador to Israel.