Some European countries are reviving 19th century laws designed to target Jewish communities at the same time antisemitism has been rising across the continent. Critics of the EU Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life (2021-2030) are frustrated at its refusal to address these issues.
Author: Riley Weymann
Authors of a recent study by the European Jewish Association (EJA) estimate that 20% of Europeans are either strongly (12%) or moderately (8%) antisemitic.[i] Radicalization of far-right movements and groups has been growing for years, even before they were thrust into the spotlight for their participation in anti-mask or anti-vaccination protests. Although they are often seen as a fringe population, far enough removed to cause any real damage, it is important to realize that they do not only exist in protests; some of their number hold important positions in society and have the power to impose their views on others. One of the ways they accomplish this is by co-opting popular positions and using them to push an alternative agenda, as has been the case with the movement across Europe to ban or limit Jewish traditional slaughtering practices.
In countries like Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Sweden, and Slovenia, laws limiting or outlawing Jewish ritual slaughtering of animals have been increasingly introduced over the last decade or so. Most of the support behind the laws are based in animal protectionism, citing the fact that to be considered kosher, the slaughtered animal must remain conscious.[ii] This directly mirrors the ways in which kosher slaughtering was discussed in the period leading up to World War I. Though the intent was more explicit then, with postcards, posters, and jokes portraying Jewish butchers as unkempt murderers practicing blood libel, in policy discussions it was also common to hear the issue through the lens of animal rights.[iii]
The EU Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life (2021-2030) is a 46-page document published on Oct. 6 of this year which reiterates several long-term goals and principles of various EU institutions regarding antisemitism. Adoption of a standard EU definition of antisemitism by members states and commitments to educating young people against stereotypes were well-received, but many felt that this was simply not enough. Nowhere in the document does it mention protecting fundamental practices within the Jewish religion, including bans on the pre-stunning slaughtering of animals or attempts to outlaw the non-medical circumcision of boys. One of its critics, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, warned that European countries must not fall into the trap of being ‘two faced: solidly protecting us from antisemitism on one side, whilst making it impossible for Jews to practice their faith by legislating against us on the other.”[v]
The echoes of the late 19th century that we see in these laws are worrying. Once prejudice passes beyond the purview of fringe extremist groups and becomes enshrined in law, it becomes all that much more difficult to combat. There is room for debate around the humane slaughtering of animals, but to target a group and damage not only their traditions but their diet and wellbeing is irresponsible and needlessly destructive. With increasing antisemitism in Europe, issues like this are more important than many people realize. As Rabbi Menachem Margolin mentioned, it is very possible that more dangerous elements within governments can quietly undermine aspects of Jewish life until there is very little left and they are forced to leave.
[i] Riegert, Bernd. “Antisemitismus in Der EU Weit Verbreitet.” Deutsche Welle. October 14, 2021. https://www.dw.com/de/antisemitismus-in-der-eu-weit-verbreitet/a-59482132.
[ii] That is not to diminish the role that anti-Muslim prejudice plays in this, as well, as halal meat is also prepared without stunning the animal.
[iii] Judd, Robin. “The Politics of Beef: Animal Advocacy and the Kosher Butchering Debates in Germany.” Jewish social studies 10, no. 1 (2003): 117–150.
[iv] Laudin, Radek. “Lékař Usiluje O Hilsnerovo Očištění v Případu Přes Sto Let Staré Vraždy.” IDNES.cz. February 27, 2015. https://www.idnes.cz/jihlava/zpravy/berlinsky-lekar-hodla-ocistit-jmeno-odsouzeneho-vraha-hilsnera.A150226_2142760_jihlava-zpravy_evs.
[v] “Belgian Court Decision to Ban Central Tenet of Jewish Faith Is Opportunity for European Countries to Fully Stand Behind Their Jewish Communities.” European Jewish Association. October 1, 2021. https://ejassociation.eu/hot-topics/belgian-court-decision-to-ban-central-tenet-of-jewish-faith-is-opportunity-for-european-countries-to-fully-stand-behind-their-jewish-communities/.