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Belgian body bans ritual slaughter

L-r: Moshe Kantor, Frans Timmermans, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt

L-r: Moshe Kantor, Frans Timmermans, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt

BRUSSELS — A committee of the Walloon Parliament in southern Belgium has voted to ban the slaughter of animals which have not been stunned, which violates both kosher and halal ritual slaughter.

The environment committee of the Walloon Parliament voted unanimously on May 5 for the ban, which takes effect on Sept. 1, 2019.

The issue is set to be debated later this month in the Parliament’s plenary, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Similar legislation has been proposed by the Parliament in the northern Belgium Flanders or Flemish region.

Shechitah, the ritual method of slaughtering animals, requires they be conscious when their throats are slit — a practice that critics say is cruel but which advocates insist is more humane than mechanized methods used in non-kosher abattoirs, and which yields a far lower pecentage of failed acts of slaughter than stunning.

Muslims slaughter animals in a similar method, albeit with fewer restrictions, to produce halal meat.

EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor called the decision “scandalous.”

“This decision, in the heart of Western Europe and the center of the EU, sends a terrible message to Jewish communities throughout our continent that Jews are unwanted.

“It attacks the very core of our culture and religious practice and our status as equal citizens with equal rights in a democratic society.

“It gives succor to anti-Semites and to those intolerant of other communities and faiths,” Kantor said, vowing to “not rest until this ban is overturned and Jews in Europe are able to practice their most basic religious rights.”

Last month, Philippe Markiewicz, president of the Consistoire organization of Belgian Jewry that is responsible for providing religious services, pleaded with Walloon region lawmakers not to “repeat the Nazis’ acts.”

“The last assault on ritual slaughter was in October, 1940 under the Nazi occupation because they knew how important it was for Jews,” Markiewicz said during an address in the city of Namur at the Parliament of Wallonia.

The statement was unusual because Jewish community officials rarely draw comparisons between present-day issues and the Nazi occupation, which remains a sensitive subject in Belgium.

The move in the Walloon region, which has only a few hundred Jews, follows an agreement in March that imposes limitations on ritual slaughter in the Flemish region, where half of Belgium’s Jewish population of 40,000 people live. The remaining 20,000 live in the Brussels region.

According to the Joods Actueel monthly, Flemish Region politicians are seeking the consent of Muslim and Jewish faith communities to a proposal in which small animals would be non-lethally stunned with electricity before they are killed.

Larger animals would receive “irreversible stunning” — a term that usually describes a bolt pin to the brain — within seconds of the slashing of their throats in a procedure known as post-cut stunning.

Some Orthodox Jewish communities and their faith leaders, including in Austria, have accepted post-cut stunning.

On Tuesday, May 9, the chief rabbi of Brussels urged a senior EU official to intervene to prevent the ban.

Rabbi Albert Guigui made the plea publicly in the presence of Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, during a rabbinical conference in Hoofdorp, about 15 miles south of Amsterdam, where Timmermans spoke as the guest of honor before 250 members of the Conference of European Rabbis.

“We ask you as our friend and ally to join this fight, which is a fight for religious freedom,” Guigui told Timmermans during the 60th anniversary convention of the Conference of European Rabbis of the effort to block a ban.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the European Conference of Rabbis, said the fight to protect shechitah in Europe is one of the “main challenges” facing the continent’s Jewish residents today.

Timmermans during his speech reiterated his commitment and that of the EU to fight anti-Semitism and defend religious freedoms.

The former Netherlands foreign minister also said that according to his personal “point of view,” ritual slaughter should be “not be a problem“ if “it is done by people trained to do so.”

Timmermans did not indicate whether he intended to intervene in Belgium.

“On animal welfare, let the facts speak for themselves,” he said. “Let science testify as to the suffering of animals when they are slaughtered.” The same, he added, “applies to circumcision.”

Recent scientific studies both on the benefits and effects of circumcision and on the suffering of animals when slaughtered have produced contradictory results.

A ban on the slaughter of animals without stunning will become effective in January, 2019 in the Flemish region, according to De Morgen daily.

In Europe, the Jewish and Muslim customs have united opponents from liberal circles who cite animal welfare  and right-wing nationalists who view the custom as foreign to their countries’ cultures.


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