Campaigns against kosher: a looming threat? James Mendelsohn

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 dhabiha
Shechita is performed by means of a single, swift cut to the neck with a very sharp knife. Importantly, and in contrast to “non-religious” slaughter, the animal is not stunned beforehand, because, according to Jewish religious law, this renders the animal treif – i.e. not kosher – meaning that it cannot be eaten by observant Jews. Some strands of Islam also prohibit pre-stunning in relation to dhabiha (halal slaughter, which is performed in a similar way). This has long exercised animal welfare groups, who claim that it is inhumane to slaughter animals without stunning them first.

Shechita and Brexit

UK slaughter methods will, at least until the end of the Brexit transition period, remain governed by EU legislation. This requires all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but allows member states to grant exemptions to Jews and Muslims for the purposes of shechita and dhabiha. Some EU Member States, such as Denmark and Slovenia, grant no such exemptions. In such states, EU rules on free movement of goods enable Jewish communities to import kosher meat. By contrast, the UK does allow Jews (and Muslims) to slaughter without pre-stunning – and also to import kosher meat from abroad.

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

The worst-case scenario – a ban on both domestic production and on imports – would essentially force observant Jews to go vegetarian, or to compromise their faith, or to emigrate! Is this why kosher and halal slaughter has long been a pre-occupation of the far right?

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 previous Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, pledged to protect shechita. By contrast, George Eustice has called for a free Parliamentary vote on whether to make stunning of all animals before slaughter obligatory. There is therefore a real prospect that shechita – and the Jews who practise it – could come under intense pressure.

The case for the defence

Various arguments can be made against a ban.
The first is that the UK, as a tolerant, liberal democracy, should uphold religious freedom – including that of minorities. Those (of all faiths and none) who believe in religious liberty should call on the government to oppose a ban.

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.

This piece, by James Mendelsohn, was first published in Jewish News / Times of Israel.

ESA RN31 Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism mid term conf in Portugal, Sep 2020

CALL FOR PAPERS

“Human Rights, Democracy and the threats of old and new populisms: Antisemitism, Racism and Xenophobia”

Braga, 3 – 4 September 2010, University of Minho (Portugal)

The ESA Research Network 31: Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism invites submissions of papers for its biannual Mid-Term conference. The conference will be held from 3 to 4 September 2018 at the University of Minhi, Braga, Portugal.

This year’s Mid-Term conference will particularly focus on old and new populisms and the challenges to human rights and democracy. Against the background that in recent years proto-totalitarianism and populism have emerged with great speed and ferocity into mainstream democratic discourse, we are interested in scholarly work on the democratic state, critiques of democracy, the totalitarian contempt for democracy, the critique of truth, critique of ‘the media’ etc.

We will hold sessions that focus on theoretical, methodological and empirical aspects of research on antisemitism and racism, also in a comparative framework. The network’s perspective is to bridge an exclusive divide between the understanding of antisemitism and of racism, exploring the correspondences and affinities, but also the differences and contrasts. Our over-arching question is to understand what are the material conditions and the social, political and historical contexts shaping variations in racism (including neglected forms like anti-Roma discrimination, “antigypsyism”, but also anti-Muslim resentment) and antisemitism (including antisemitism related to the hostility to Israel, Islamic antisemitism, antisemitism of the left as well as of the right), across time and across different European and global contexts. Our network provides a space where antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia are each understood in the context of the others.

As we mentioned above, our over-arching question is to understand the material conditions and the social, political and historical contexts shaping variations of antisemitism and racism across time and across different European and global contexts

In addition, we are interested in scholarly research on Iberian histories of antisemitism and the Sephardic diaspora.

Our special concern lies in (but is not limited to) the following issues. A perspective on the gendered dimensions of all these issues is most welcome:

  • Critical Social Sciences in the face of inequalities;
  • Theoretical/conceptual and methodological approaches to the actuality of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia in the context of democracy and its critique;
  • Discourses on human rights and their relation to antisemitism and racism;
  • Theoretical and empirical studies on conspiracy ideologies and exclusive nationalisms;
  • Anti-establishment rhetorics and conceptions of the “white working class”;
  • Antisemitism and anti-Muslim resentment as political and social rhetoric in the extreme-right movement across Europe;
  • Neglected forms of racism and racialisation, including anti-Roma discrimination or “antigypsyism”;
  • The legacy of colonialism in the discourses and practices of democratic and post-colonial societies;
  • Intersection of different racisms or of racisms with other axes of difference, inequality and power.

We particularly welcome papers that offer a comparative framing (e.g. cross-nationally or from the perspective of different European regions), papers that offer a multi or inter-disciplinary framing (e.g. drawing on history), and papers that offer theoretical and methodological innovation in studying these questions.

During the sessions, each speaker will have 20 minutes. All presentations will be made in English. Please send an abstract including eventual institutional affiliation to the local committee of the Mid-Term conference: Maria José Casa-Nova (mjcasanova@ie.uminho.pt), Manuela Ivone Cunha (micunha2@gmail.com) and Patrícia Jerónimo Vink (ppmj@direito.uminho.pt).

Deadline: 8 May 2020

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