Shimon Cohen, Campaign Director, Shechita UK
This time last week, members of the Jewish community, absorbed by the great swathes of media coverage marking the beginning of the 100-day countdown to the general election, might have reasonably found themselves thinking that despite their bad press, UKIP could be emerging as a surprising favourite for them at the polls.
Its record on Israel is on a par with the Conservatives, it is outspoken on the urgent need to tackle extremism and anti-Semitism and it has been an active supporter of religious practice both at home and across Europe.
Yes, it has made some questionable alliances in Europe but we could probably live with that – after all, its apparent propensity for marginalising and scapegoating minority groups didn’t seem to have affected us at all.
A week later and that illusion has come crashing down. UKIP has announced it now formally opposes religious slaughter, apparently on animal welfare grounds, becoming the first mainstream political party in the UK to do so.
Sadly, it is are not alone in seeking an end to religious slaughter – both the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA have been at the centre of recent campaigns against shechita, choosing selectively from the available science and insisting the ‘evidence’ shows that industrialised mechanical stunning prior to slaughter is the most humane way to dispatch an animal.
These campaigns have provided excellent cover for UKIP to use animal welfare as a fig leaf to hide a far more sinister agenda. At Shechita UK, we take responsibility for ensuring key Parliamentarians are fully briefed on the issue of religious slaughter and we would not be doing our job if we had not ensured that senior figures at the party were included.
Following meetings with party leader Nigel Farage and its agricultural spokesman Stuart Agnew, it became clear that both men were keen to support us. We subsequently invested a great deal of time, providing a tour for Mr Agnew around an abattoir where shechita was taking place, giving him the opportunity to see the process first-hand.
As an experienced farmer, well used to seeing animal slaughter, he was clearly impressed and spoke publicly of his views at the recent UKIP conference, assuring us of his party’s support.
That was followed by clear commitments on this issue from Mr Farage and Douglas Carswell at various meetings in the Jewish community again reiterated at their party conference.
So, given UKIP senior leadership’s unambiguous public support for us on this issue, what could have changed so drastically in a matter of days? The answer, it seems, is very simple – they are entirely out of step with the rest of their party.
Since the shock U-turn was announced by the party’s press office earlier this week, Mr Agnew has confirmed for us that despite his clear recommendation that the right to carry out shechita should be protected, his party’s National Executive Committee voted against that view.
Could it be that UKIP’s national leadership, the majority of whom are elected by its members, have had a sudden attack of conscience and are putting animal welfare higher on their agenda than before? I’ve trawled the internet looking for UKIP statements calling for a national ban on animal testing, fox hunting, mechanical stunning methods, mis-stunning before slaughter or other key welfare issues but, try as I might, I simply could not find anything to suggest that it is genuinely motivated by concern for animals.
Its true motivation, as has now been reported across national media, was that the Jewish community are in fact ‘collateral damage’ in an attack that was ‘aimed elsewhere’.
There can be no other way to understand this. UKIP wants to attack Muslims and their way of life – if that means that Jews get in the way, then we’re fair game as well.
To all of those in our community who had allowed themselves to believe that UKIP’s values might in fact be aligned with their own, that they weren’t about attacking minorities so much as being straight talking on immigration and British values – the events of this last week should send the clearest possible message that nothing could be further from the truth.
There remains no doubt in my mind that Nigel Farage, Stuart Agnew and Douglas Carswell are themselves good friends of the Jewish community, but they are powerless to change the fact that their party remains dogged by a membership apparently motivated by intolerance and bigotry.
No doubt, when the Jewish community goes to the polls this May, this episode will weigh heavily on their minds.