UK Jewish representatives have said Belgium’s ban on shechita “offends against the human right of relisious freedom” after the country’s law to stop non-stun slaughter took effect.
The implementation of the ban, which came into effect in the region of Flanders on 1 January, will impact on both the country’s Jewish and Muslim communities, and European Jewish figures say it “puts Jewish life at risk” and runs counter to public pronouncements from politicians that Jewish life should be protected.
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “This is a deeply illiberal move, which offends against the human right to religious freedom and is a major setback to Belgium’s reputation as a progressive country.”
She added: “The very premise of our religious laws is to ensure that animals slaughtered for food have as little pain as possible. When this was first mooted, we challenged the Belgian Ambassador on this issue alongside our colleagues at Shechita UK.
“We support efforts to overturn this in the Belgian courts and are in contact with our Belgian counterparts on how best we can help.”
Rabbis were among those in Europe reacting to the ban.
“Time and again, we are told by senior EU officials that there is no Europe without the Jews,” said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis. “These bans undermine those statements and put Jewish life at risk… Words are weak when actions hurt.”
While Jewish leaders have known about the Belgian ban for months, Goldschmidt said it was “with true sadness” that European Jewry were witnessing it take effect, adding that it was “an anti-religious measure and an affront to the European values we all hold so dear”.
Belgium has now joined Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland in banning the slaughter of animals before they have been stunned, and several legal challenges are underway, including one financed by the US-based Lawfare Project.
At the time of the Bill passing, the European Jewish Association said it risked playing into the hands of a resurgent far-right and “sends a message to the Jewish population here, that we really don’t respect you or your practices”.
Meanwhile, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Wednesday, The Truth About Vegans, showed anti-meat protesters chanting: “It’s a Holocaust. It’s a Holocaust, you Nazis.”
Shimon Cohen, the campaigns director of Shechita UK, told the programme: “This changed into something a little bit more troubling when the people started to scrawl antisemitic graffiti on our buildings using Holocaust imagery, as though we are performing a Holocaust of the chickens.”