It is a highly negative achievement for the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to have made the Simon Wiesenthal’s (SWC) 2020 list of the top ten worst global antisemitic incidents. This is even more remarkable as the Court’s inclusion in the list was based on a flawed judgment, which contained a major lie.
The EU's highest court decided that a Flemish government decision to allow ritual slaughter of animals only after stunning allowed "a fair balance to be struck between animal welfare and freedom of religion." Why was this a lie? Because for religion abiding Jews – and also for many Muslims -- eating meat of animals stunned before slaughter is prohibited. There can thus be no “fair balance” between animal welfare and a prohibition of a religious commandment, as the Court falsely claims.
The court’s ruling went also contrary to a recommendation by its advocate general who wanted to cancel the Flemish law. He said stricter animal welfare laws could be allowed, if the "core" religious practice was not encroached upon. Yet the Court’s judgment did infringe this “core religious practice.”
There are many background aspects when considering this legal decision. After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazi government introduced a similar measure in Germany. It fit their antisemitic policies. Although they gave another reason for their decision, the European Court does back up Hitler’s approach. The SWC, in its document mentions the connection between the Court’s and Hitler’s decisions explicitly. The European judges may have been ignorant of the antisemitic character and history of their recent ruling. Antisemitism out of ignorance is only one of the hatred’s many strains.
The Luxembourg judges waded into an antisemitic subject with a lengthy history. The least negative one can assume is that they had no basic knowledge about the past of the issue, otherwise theirs would even have been a greater misjudgment than it already is.
In the past, much anti-ritual slaughter legislation in Europe was built on an opinionated antisemitic basis. In Switzerland ritual slaughter without stunning was forbidden through an amendment of the constitution in 1893. Its aim was to indicate to Jews that they were not very welcome in the country. Except during the Second World War when there were numerous Jewish refugees in the Switzerland the Jewish community has always remained small. After the war, the Swiss government made substantial efforts to have Jewish refugees leave the country.
Norway, a country with a lengthy antisemiitic tradition, adopted a law forbidding killing animals without stunning, in 1929. That was even before Germany under Nazi rule, did so. It remains in power until today. In contrast, Norwegians have continued since to kill whales in a cruel manner in which the animal may suffer in many ways.
Besides in Germany, also in German occupied countries during the Second World war, such as the Netherlands, Jewish ritual slaughter without stunning was prohibited. It was undone after Germany's defeat. For a number of years in the Dutch parliament there has been a small party, the Party for Animals for whom animal rights and welfare are central. It proposed in 2011 a law in the Dutch House of Representatives to forbid religious slaughter without stunning.
This law was not mainly motivated by antisemitism -- even though in Europe one never knows -- but by selective emotional elements in a partly irrational environment. There was much popular support for this. It indicated that many Dutch can more easily place themselves in the imagined mind of a cow than that of a religious Jew. The law passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.
Among the parties who supported the law was the populist anti-Islam PVV party. This was motivated by the problems it would cause to part of the religious Muslims. Yet one if parliamentarians Dion Graus said in the House of Representatives that he could refute everyone who claimed that his party was only against Muslims: “We are concerned about the animal. We are also against Jewish ritual slaughter.”
Halal slaughter by Muslims represents not more than 1% to 2% of the massive combined slaughter of animals in the Netherlands. Part of Muslims do not eat Halal meat if the animal was stunned before slaughter. The total number of cows slaughtered according to Jewish rituals in the Netherlands, is around 3000, a marginal number in the overall industry.
The irony: The European Union has announced that in 2021, it will devote in its work program much time to the combatting of antisemitism.
In the general slaughter industry in the Netherlands, there are huge abuses of animal welfare. These include also many cases when animals are transported to the abattoir. It is a well-known political tactic though to focus attacks on relatively small minority practices.
In the meantime huge scandals of animal welfare in Europe do not necessarily get massive international publicity. In 2014 a ban on ritual slaughter without stunning came in effect in Denmark. In November 2020 some Danish mink farms had animals infected with the Covid virus. Thereupon more than ten million minks were culled upon government orders.
The Danish government admitted afterwards that it lacked the legal framework for a nationwide order and only had jurisdiction to cull infected mink or herds within a safety radius."It is a mistake. It is a regrettable mistake," said Social Democrat Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in parliament. “Even if we were in a rush, it should have been completely clear to us that new legislation was required, and it was not. I apologise for that.”
The burying of the minks also led to a huge environmental scandal. In a few months – when there are no more Covid risks four million mink bodies will have to be dug up and reburied. Some animals in mass graves in a military area in the west of the country have resurfaced because of nitrogen and phosphorus gases produced by their decay. Two burial sites are highly controversial, as one is near a bathing lake and the other not far from a source of drinking water. Residents have complained about the potential risk of contamination.
Jewish organizations may appeal the European Court of Justice decision at the European Court of Human Rights. Be that as it, this action by the Court may encourage other countries to adopt similar antisemitic laws. The French speaking part of Belgium, Wallonia, already did so in 2017.
There is another major aspect to this issue. The European Union has announced that in 2021, it will devote in its work program much time to the combatting of antisemitism. As an introduction to that, the European Court of Justice has managed to make an antisemitic decision that fits well into the European tradition of hatred of Jews of more than a thousand years. The EU will have to find a convincing answer to this if it wants to have any credibility in its combat against antisemitism.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has been a strategic advisor for more than thirty years to some of the Western world’s leading corporations. Among the honors he received was the 2019 International Lion of Juda Award of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research paying tribute to him as the recognized leading international authority on contemporary antisemitism. His main book on the subject is: The War of a Million Cuts The struggle against the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews and the growth of New antisemitism.