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July 18, 2018 2:11 pm

Austrian Jewish Leader Says Proposed Kosher Meat Restrictions Are Reminiscent of Nazi-Era Legislation

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The logo of Niederoesterreich (Lower Austria) province. Photo: Reuters / Heinz-Peter Bader.

The head of Vienna’s Jewish community has compared a proposal that would require Jews to register with the government in order to purchase kosher meat to Nazi-era legislation.

Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish community organization in the Austrian capital, said that the plan hatched by a far-right politician in the Lower Austria region would entail compiling a list of Jews, harking back to the dark years of Nazi rule.

“That’s like a non-Aryan clause,” Deutsch told a meeting of the Jewish community in Vienna on Monday night, in comments reported by the Wiener Zeitung news outlet — a reference to the Nazi racial legislation imposed in Austria following the “Anschluss,” or union, between Austria and Hitler’s Germany in March 1938. An April 1933 ban on kosher slaughter was one of the first legislative acts of the Nazi regime.

The plan’s author is Gottfried Waldhäusl — a local cabinet minister and farmer who represents the far-right Freedom Party. Formed in the 1950s under the leadership of Anton Reinthaller, a former officer in the Nazi SS, the Freedom Party is a junior partner in Austria’s present coalition government.

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Claiming that his proposal is based in concerns about “animal welfare,” Waldhäusl has submitted a draft decree that would result in a ban on the sale of kosher meat to all except those Jews who have registered for an exemption permit.

Waldhäusl — a long-time opponent of both kosher and halal meat sales — said he was “checking whether the meat requirement can be linked to the place of residence.”

Speaking to the Wiener Zeitung, Waldhäusl added pointedly that Lower Austria was “not there to provide meat to the Viennese.” He said that it was “difficult to see why Viennese travel to Lower Austria and have thousands of animals slaughtered here.” The great majority of Austria’s 8,000 Jews live in Vienna.

Muslim leaders have also condemned the proposal. “It is unacceptable for fellow citizens to be stigmatized because of their religion, and the time to register believers is over forever,” Ibrahim Olgun, the head of the Islamic Religious Community of Austria, said in a statement.

In an interview with broadcaster ORF, Jewish community head Deutsch said that the right to eat kosher meat was, like circumcision, a necessary “pillar” for a viable Jewish community in Austria. “If Jews are to live in Austria, then that must be possible,” he said.

Two top officials in Lower Austria belonging to the conservative People’s Party — the dominant partner in the country’s government — offered reassurances on Wednesday that Waldhäusl’s proposal would not be put into practice.

Klaus Schneeberger, Lower Austria’s regional leader, told ORF, “Of course nobody will have to register to buy kosher meat.”

“There will be no such thing,” he said.

Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Lower Austria’s governor, said she had been in contact with Deutsch and other Jewish leaders to reassure them “that their fears will not be realized.”

At the same time, Mikl-Leitner told Der Standard newspaper that the rights of religious communities had to be balanced against animal welfare concerns. “Religious freedom is an important asset for us, but the protection of animals is also very important in our country, which is why special conditions must exist (for the purchase of kosher meat),” she said. However, the regional governor remained adamant that this would not involve “registration of customers.”

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