This piece, by James Mendelsohn, was first published in Jewish News / Times of Israel.
Following December’s General Election, many British Jews felt relief that an ‘existential threat’posed by the Labour Party had been vanquished. Two subsequent events prohibit complacency: Britain’s formal departure from the European Union, and the appointment of George Eustice MP as the Environment Secretary. Together, they herald a new threat: namely, a British ban on shechita (kosher slaughter).
Shechita and Brexit
Outside the EU, this could change significantly. The UK government could ban shechita. It could also ban imports or, alternatively, impose high tariffs. Such changes would make it far harder – if not impossible – for British Jews to access kosher meat.
The impact of a ban
Clearly, not all those who favour a ban are from that stable. Others include the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association, and the National Secular Society. Nonetheless, a ban on shechita would criminalise an important aspect of orthodox Judaism and therefore signal to observant Jews, in the strongest possible way, that they were unwelcome in Britain. Regardless of motive, a ban on shechita would therefore – much like BDS – always have an antisemitic effect. Campaigns against kosher would generate anti-Semitic discourse: the “othering” of observant Jews as cruel, backwards people, who do not truly belong to the “nation of animal lovers” that is the “Christian” UK! It would be an unusual form of antisemitism, in that Jews would find themselves in the dock alongside Muslims; or perhaps, conversely, it would be an unusual form of Islamophobia.
The Eustice Manifesto?
The case for the defence
A second argument is that campaigns to outlaw non-stun slaughter are at best highly selective and at worst hypocritical. Modern factory farming methods inflict intense suffering upon animals throughout their lives. Against this backdrop, any pain experienced in their final few moments by a comparatively small number of animals slaughtered by Jews and Muslims, is far from the most pressing animal welfare issue of our times. Only the vegans truly have the moral high ground on this one!
Perhaps most importantly, the scientific case against non-stun slaughter is significantly weaker than advocates for a ban claim. What seems clear is that the British Jewish community may soon need to steel itself once again – this time, to defend the practice of shechita.