One of the first steps in Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic drive in the creation of his Third Reich was instituting a ban on the kosher slaughter of animals.
Today, as a new wave of ugly, and sometimes violent, anti-Semitism sweeps through the European continent, at least five countries have banned kosher food production, and one of them is considering halting all import of kosher meat.
The latest nation to join the movement is Holland, where the move was guised in concern for cruelty to animals.
“They simply don’t want foreigners and they don’t want Jews,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, former chief rabbi of Norway, another European nation that bans kosher meat production. “I won’t say this is the only motivation, but it’s certainly no coincidence that one of the first things Nazi Germany forbade was kosher slaughter. I also know that during the original debate on this issue in Norway, where shechitah has been banned since 1930, one of the parliamentarians said straight out, ‘If they don’t like it, let them go live somewhere else.’”
While animal-rights activists have indeed been at the forefront of the recent efforts to ban kosher slaughter, there is growing concern on the part of people like Melchior, now an Israeli official, that initiatives spreading through Europe are gaining popularity because of deep-seated anti-Semitism manifesting itself in many other ways, from Belgium to Germany to France and Switzerland.
- On Saturday, unknown assailants hurled a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in the Belgian port city of Antwerp, where riots by Arab immigrants began a week ago following the shooting of a 27-year-old Moroccan immigrant. About 30,000 people of Arab origin live in Antwerp. It is also home to a long-established Orthodox Jewish community of about 20,000.
- Several weeks ago, Germany announced a decision to stop all arms sales to Israel. This comes at a time when attacks on memorials to Nazi-era victims are on the rise. In at least seven attacks this year, extremists destroyed a memorial plaque at Raben-Steinfeld, vandalized a memorial in Woebbelin and a memorial column in Lutterow, and drew a swastika on the grounds of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on the Nov. 9 anniversary of Krystalnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazis targeted Jewish businesses and synagogues in 1938.
- German police are investigating an incident last month where anti-Semitic disruptions occurred at a Berlin ceremony to restore a street name referring to Jews that was erased by Nazi officials in 1938. Hecklers at the event booed, whistled and shouted slogans including “Jews out” and “The Jews crucified Jesus,” according to Germany’s Central Council of Jews. Paul Spiegel, the group’s head, said he was horrified and that the incident “reminds us painfully of the late 1920s,” when the Nazis began their rise to power in Germany. The event re-established Juedenstrasse – an old German word for Jews’ Street – in the western district of Spandau after years of deliberations by local officials. The name, dating back to the 16th century, recalls Spandau’s former Jewish community. Under Nazi rule, the street was renamed for Gottfried Kinkel, a 19th-century poet and art historian who was once imprisoned in Spandau.
- Fiona Macaulay, public affairs director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, says incidents of anti-Semitism have increased 400 percent in Britain since the start of the intifada in the fall of 2000.
- A one-day international conference on sanctions and divestment in London last week called for a boycott of Israel “not dissimilar to the campaign which contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa.”
Of course, it’s not just Europe that is experiencing a wave of new anti-Semitism.
Avi Beker, the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, says in the past two years Jews around the world have experienced the worst anti-Semitism since World War II, primarily because of the effects of the Middle East conflict. In Canada, the U.S. and Europe, there have been attacks on synagogues and other Jewish centers as well as individual Jews, he says.
“Anti-Semitism, showing itself to be the most enduring and the hardiest manifestation of the racism virus, has reared its ugly head once again,” says Keith Landy, the Canadian Jewish Congress president. Landy said across the world Jewish people continue to face discrimination, harassment and violence because of their faith. It is a sad day for any religion when a security guard must be posted at the door of a place of worship so people may pray in safety – a common occurrence at many Jewish synagogues, he stated. “Instead of declaring ‘never again,’ we find ourselves painfully asking, ‘will it ever end?’”
Since October 2000, there have been 300 anti-Semitic occurrences in Canada, he said. Also, he argued, the current international attack on Israel is clear anti-Semitism.
Australia’s Jewish community is also experiencing the highest level of anti-Semitism since statistics were first collected 57 years ago, figures released recently by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry showed.
Council President Jeremy Jones told United Press International there were 593 reports of anti-Semitism in the year to Sept. 30, with incidents ranging from physical and verbal assaults to firebombs thrown at synagogues and community centers, telephone threats, hate mail and e-mail.
He said there are dozens of groups perpetrating hate crimes. The main ones are the Australian League of Rights, the Adelaide Institute, neo-Nazi fringe groups and the Citizens Electoral Councils, which are followers of U.S.-based Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.
The man with the highest profile is historian Frederick Toben of the Adelaide Institute, who, like British historian David Irving, denies the existence of the Holocaust.
Jones also lamented what he calls horrific material from Muslims in Australia and singles out Sheik Taj al Din al Hilaly, spiritual leader of Australia’s Muslims and one of the country’s most contentious religious figures. After he arrived from Egypt in 1982, the government tried to expel him for making statements condemned as incitement to racial hatred. A Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Alan Ramsey, wrote that these included comments that Jews are the underlying cause of all wars, use sex and abominable acts of sodomy to control the world, and that Jews had a malicious disposition toward all mankind.
But it is in Europe where anti-Semitism is getting the most attention – perhaps because the Holocaust occurred just a generation earlier in the continent.
When there was an effort by Jews in Switzerland to lift the century-old ban on the production of kosher meat, an anti-Semitic backlash erupted earlier this year.
“This is a trend that is very much worrying us,” said Beker. He points out that a movement in Sweden, another European nation that bans kosher slaughter, attempted to ban ritual circumcision – the quintessential rite of passage for Jewish males. “We regard this as interference in Jewish religious practices.”
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said bans on kosher slaughter are the result of activism between animal-rights extremists “aided and abetted” by anti-Semitic politicians.
“Sometimes anti-Semites will use this as a vehicle to try to isolate the Jewish community by reaching out to those who are so preoccupied with animal rights,” he told Jewish Week. “The key is whether or not there is a history in that country. … What other issues of animal rights have they engaged in to prohibit cruelty? When they begin and end with kosher slaughter, that’s when I become suspect.”
While the Holland ban offers some loopholes to the Jewish community in the country, the Swiss ban on shechitah may go even further. The government earlier this year considered a ban on the import of kosher meat, and the Swiss Animal Association is calling for a national referendum on barring the import of such products. A poll shows 76 percent of the population would support such a move.
“It’s ominous,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the kashrut administrator for the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher-certifying organization in the world. “This kind of legislation in Europe has to be understood in the context of European history. A person would have to be extremely naive not to think that this is linked to anti-Semitism.”
Melchior makes the case that kosher slaughter is actually more humane than the practices in slaughterhouses.
“The Torah forbids cruelty to animals, and the shechitah process ensures that the animal loses consciousness immediately,” he explains. “We have been dealing with this issue for many years, and there are many scientific studies that back us up.”