Friday, 20 Sep 2019 - 20 of Elul, 5779

Freedom of religion under threat in Europe

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“We thought that restrictions on the practice of religion belonged to Europe’s history, not to its present and even less so to its future. I call on you to do your utmost in order to attempt to roll back this legislation so as to find the right balance between animal rights … and freedom of religion,” Jewish Agency Chairman President Isaac Herzog wrote in a letter to the president of the Walloon parliament.

BRUSSELS—The chairman of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, has appealed to the president of the regional parliament of Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, to reverse a ban on kosher ritual slaughter without stunning.

“This is not only an issue of freedom of practice for traditional kosher butcheries. … This is an unacceptable infringement of general freedom of religion,” Herzog said in his letter.

The ban, which also targets Muslim slaughter of animals, had been voted by the regional Walloon parliament and is effective since September 1, 2019, despite protests from the Jewish community in Belgium which has brought the case to the country’s Constitutional Court and condemnation from European Jewish leaders who fear the move could lead to a limitation on religious freedom in the heart of the European Union.

A Belgian court ruling is pending on an appeal. A similar law was previously passed by the Flanders northern regional parliame.

The Walloon bill states that animals must be stunned before being killed—a technique that is not acceptable in accordance with Jewish slaughter, which requires animals to be conscious when their throats are slit.

The CCOJB, the representative body of Jewish organisations in Belgium, together with the Lawfare Project, have filed a lawsuit against the ban,  arguing that it clearly  violates the religious freedoms guaranteed in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The European Court of Human Rights has previously described kosher slaughter as “an essential aspect of practice of the Jewish religion.”

Animal slaughter without prior stunning is banned in Sweden, Denmark, Norways and Switzerland.

“We thought that restrictions on the practice of religion belonged to Europe’s history, not to its present and even less so to its future. I call on you to do your utmost in order to attempt to roll back this legislation so as to find the right balance between animal rights … and freedom of religion,”  Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog wrote in his letter to Christophe Collignon, the Socialist president of the Walloon parliament.

While the Jewish and Muslim communities seek to fight the ban in Wallonia, Belgium’s constitutional court has already sent a case to the EU’s top court of justice for the Flemish region’s ban.

Some believe the animal welfare argument behind the bills has been hijacked by politicians to push anti-migrant agendas, especially in Flanders, a region dominated by right-wing Flemish nationalists.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, warned Jews were left as “collateral damage” while bans targeted the Muslim community.

He said: “I think that the anti-religious slaughter bills are much more to do with two-legged animals, than four-legged animals.”

‘The ban adds to the sense that  the Jewish community is not wanted’

But the head of European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, goes even further when he said that the ban is just another restriction placed on the continent’s Jews and that ‘’it adds to the sense that the community is not wanted.’’

“This is a true tragedy for the entire Jewish community,” the rabbi said. He rejected the argument that Walloon and Flemish ban on ritual slaughter was based on ‘’humanitarian reasons.’’

“Hunting for fun and sport is still allowed in Belgium,” Margolin told the Ynet news website. “More animals are killed by hunting across Belgium than by kosher slaughter, not to mention the problemetic conditions of regular slaughter, which are allowed throughout the country,’’ he said.

‘’Jewish people care for the animals, and kosher slaughter is much more humane then any other forms of slaughter,” he added.

“The real tragedy is the fact that the politicians who were so moved by the animal rights lobbyists ignored the pleas of the Jewish community, and this kind of law makes the entire Jewish population of the country feel unwelcome,” said Rabbi Margolin.

 

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