EU court prioritizes animals over Jews and Muslims in backing ritual slaughter ban

Europe has decided to prioritize livestock’s rights over the religious liberty of Jews and Muslims (bbc.com).

What a way to bookend a year. In January, the world marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. World leaders gathered and solemnly promised, “Never again.”

Here we are in December, and while there is no new Holocaust, Europe is making Jews and Muslims feel remarkably unwelcome in their own homes.

On Thursday, the Court of Justice of the European Union, or CJEU, issued a ruling permitting a ban on religious slaughter in Belgium. In 2017, Flanders and Wallonia, two of Belgium’s three regions, banned animal slaughter that didn’t include preslaughter stunning. Both laws went into effect last year.

The laws are pitched as pro-animal, but they also directly conflict with Jewish and Muslim religious laws surrounding ritual slaughter. As the CJEU noted in its opinion, both Abrahamic faiths require animals to “be intact and healthy at the time of slaughter” for meat to be kosher or halal. The CJEU also noted that cows slaughtered according to these two religious traditions represent “only 0.1% of the total amount of meat produced in Belgium.” Yet, no religious carveout was guaranteed by either the Belgians or the CJEU.

Back in September, when Advocate General Gerard Hogan submitted his advisory opinion to the CJEU, he recommended balancing the conflicting European values of animal rights and religious liberty, noting the “EU’s commitment to a tolerant, plural society where divergent and, at times, conflicting views and beliefs subsist and must be reconciled.” Hogan also noted that “these religious rituals are of profound personal religious importance” to Jews and Muslims, and that compromise would therefore be no small matter.

Unfortunately, the CJEU took the rare step of disregarding the advocate general’s recommendation, effectively prioritizing animal rights over Jewish and Muslim Europeans’ religious freedom. It’s a striking choice because Europe remains a continent where millions of minks are still farmed for fashion (or culled for COVID-19 infection), and ducks or geese are force-fed to produce foie gras, a process wherein the “liver swells to approximately 600 percent of its normal size.”

Unsurprisingly, the reaction to this ruling has been decidedly negative. Yohan Benizri, president of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations and a vice president of both the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, called the CJEU’s decision “not only disappointing but undemocratic,” adding, “No democracy can exist when its citizens are denied basic human and civil rights.”

Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Transatlantic Institute, described the decision as “nothing less than a frontal assault on the basic rights and religious freedoms of Jews and Muslims in Europe.” He said, “Within living memory of the Holocaust, a European court not only bans a core Jewish ritual but potentially Jewish life altogether in Europe.” Executive Director of The Lawfare Project Brooke Goldstein commented, “With today’s decision, the CJEU has once again declared itself an enemy of religious minorities.”

Without question, Thursday’s ruling stands in stark contrast to Europeans’ preferred image of themselves as open-minded and tolerant. Insisting that Jews and Muslims adapt religious laws, which seek to minimize animals’ pain, simply to suit contemporary sensibilities is anything but that. European Christians might also note this decision overturns the logic of Genesis, with Muslims and Jews no longer “rul[ing] over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

This decision will also have tangible consequences. As Benizri foreshadowed to me in a July exchange, this ruling not only “matters as a [legal] precedent. It also matters in terms of the security of the supply chain, and we know from the current sanitary crisis that we cannot rely solely on imports.” He went on, “Some damage has been done, but the Brussels region may be tempted to adopt similar rules if the Walloon and Flanders laws are upheld, and other countries might follow suit.”

In other words, this ruling won’t be contained. Kosher meat, which is already expensive, will likely become even harder to obtain in a growing number of countries. Further, this ruling is likely to encourage political extremists who would relish making life inhospitable for their countries’ Jewish and Muslim minorities.

Reflecting from abroad, Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, president of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, which represents rabbis in 12 Muslim countries, told me, “It seems at times that Rabbis in Muslim countries are more respected and enjoy more religious freedom than their counterparts in Europe. We have been able to practice our Judaism without interference or disturbance for thousands of years. Kosher slaughter is done in many Muslim countries.” Chitrik continued, “The ruling of the European Court should also serve as a reminder that Jews and Muslims are facing similar religious struggles in Europe and elsewhere, and it is high time for Jews and Muslims to confront together both Islamophobia and antisemitism.”

Europe’s hostility toward religious outsiders is a centuries-old tradition. It appears that it will always find a way to justify bigotry.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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