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December 17, 2020 12:14 pm
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‘You Are Not Welcome Here’: European Union Court Ruling Against Kosher Meat Production Threatens Foundations of Jewish Life, Community Leaders Warn

avatar by Ben Cohen

The European Court of Justice, in Luxembourg. Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Cédric Puisney from Brussels, Belgium.

The basic rights of Jews in Europe to observe the core commandments of their religious faith has been gravely undermined by the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that member states of the EU can ban the slaughtering of animals without pre-stunning, a procedure that violates the strict rules for the production of kosher and halal meat for consumption by Jewish and Muslim communities, leading rabbis and Jewish leaders said on Thursday.

The Luxembourg-based ECJ — the supreme arbiter of European Union law — issued the ruling as it rejected an appeal from Jewish and Muslim associations in the Flemish region of Belgium against a local ban on ritual slaughter that was imposed in 2017. Belgium’s Constitutional Court sent the lawsuit, filed by the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations (CCOJB), to the ECJ in 2019 to determine whether the bans were lawful.

Paving the way for other EU member states and regions to adopt similar measures, Thursday’s ECJ ruling stated that “the principle that an animal should be stunned prior to being killed meets the main objective of the protection of animal welfare.”

The ruling maintained that ritual slaughter itself was not being challenged in the EU, but merely “one aspect of the specific ritual act of slaughter.” It added that the law allowed for a “fair balance” between animal welfare and the “freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion.”

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However, the argument did little to allay the horrified reaction of European Jewish leaders and organizations to the court’s ruling.

“We are told by European leaders that they want Jewish communities to live and be successful in Europe, but they provide no safeguards for our way of life,” Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt — president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) —  declared in a statement.

“Europe needs to reflect on the type of continent it wants to be,” continued Goldschmidt — who earlier this month presciently observed in an interview that the EU Council’s recent, much-heralded declaration against antisemitism did “not correspond to what is fundamentally necessary to safeguard the Jewish communities in Europe.”

Rabbi Menachem Margolin — chairman of the European Jewish Association (EJA) — scathingly described the ruling as an example of “beast takes preference over man.”

“What a terrible message to send to European Jewry, that you and your practices are not welcome here,” Margolin said in a statement. “This is a basic denial of our rights as European citizens. We cannot let it stand and will pursue every recourse and avenue to ensure that it doesn’t.”

The EJA statement also noted that Thursday’s ruling directly contradicted the opinion given in Sept. 2020 by the EU Advocate General, Gerard Hogan. 

EU states “are obliged to respect the deeply held religious beliefs of adherents to the Muslim and Jewish faiths by allowing for the ritual slaughter of animals,” Hogan stated at the time.

Yohan Benizri  —  president of the CCOJB, the Belgian Jewish community’s representative body — remarked that the ECJ’s decision to ignore the opinion of its own Advocate General was “not only disappointing, but undemocratic.”

“No democracy can exist when its citizens are denied basic human and civil rights,” Benizri said.

US-based Jewish groups also lambasted the ECJ ruling.

B’nai B’rith International (BBI) said in a statement that it was “deeply dismayed at today’s ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) allowing EU member states to impinge on ritual slaughter.”

The Washington, DC-based group emphasized that “pre-slaughter stunning is forbidden under traditional Jewish law. The ECJ’s decision violates the fundamental right to freedom of religion and is a blow to Europe’s Jewish community.”

A separate statement from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) commented that the ECJ’s “truly unfortunate decision is yet another signal that Jewish life in Europe is under attack.”

“Beyond concerns about physical security and rising levels of antisemitism, EU Member States are now given discretion to also dictate whether Jews can live their religion unencumbered or not. If that is the law in the European Union today, the law needs to change. We will spare no efforts to right this wrong,” the WJC said.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) meanwhile remarked that “within living memory of the Holocaust, a European court not only bans a core Jewish ritual but potentially Jewish life altogether in Europe.”

“This is a dark day for the Jewish communities in Belgium and across Europe, which have already been living over the past years in a constant state of emergency due to the rise in antisemitism and murderous terror attacks,” the AJC stated.

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