Dutch Jewish Groups Face Off Against Animal Activists

The Party for Animals want to ban kosher slaughtering practices

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Players: Dutch Parliament's Party for Animals leader Marianne Thieme; Dutch Chief Rabbi and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Binyomin Jacobs.

Opening Serve: Thieme, one of only two members of Dutch parliament representing the "far-left minority" Party for Animals, introduced a bill back in April that, according to Chabad.org, "would effectively outlaw kosher slaughtering in the Netherlands," including kosher slaughtering practices which require "that an animal be conscious when its throat is cut." Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported when the bill was first introduced that "The Animal Rights Party fervently believes that animals should not have to endure what they call torture in order to accommodate religious beliefs." In an op-ed at Radio Netherlands Worldwide entitled, "An Animal Doesn't Care About Its Killer's Faith," Thieme wrote that, despite the fact that the Qu'ran and Torah both "describe how animal products should be prepared in such a way that no such suffering is inflicting on humans or animals ... based on new insights, their methods of slaughter are in need of reform today. Religious believers can no longer justify a method that was ahead of its time 3000 years ago."

Return Volley: Binyomin Jacobs, the Netherlands' chief rabbi and Amersfoot Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, has joined forces with several other prominent Jewish advocates to protest the possible ban. Jacobs told Chabad, "I would not have bad feelings if the Party for Animals wanted to completely ban any and all slaughterings. Every home would be vegetarian and then it would be equal. But that's not what this is. It's nonsense." Jacobs' effort has been advocated by the president of the European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor, who argued in a letter to the Dutch Prime Minister that such legislation would violate the "protections of religious practices" guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights." On Tuesday, the Dutch news site NIS News Bulletin reports that the fight to block the ban is being taken one step further. The Organization of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands and the Amsterdam Jewish Community "are taking the government to court," demanding reports from Wageningen University about the negative effects of unanaesthatised slaughter on which the proposed ban was supposedly based. The Jewish organizations contest the scientific merits of the reports.

What They Say the Fight's About: Thieme, the Party for Animals and other supporters of the ban argue that killing an animal without stunning it first is inhumane. The ban's protesters insist that not only would such legislation infringe on their religious freedoms--Muslims as well as Jews practice unanaesthatised slaughter--it is falsely asserts that the modern way of slaughtering is less cruel. "People think stunning is just a little injection, but they use a gun," Jacobs points out. "Just because the animal is immobilized, doesn't mean it doesn't suffer. And when the animal is shot inaccurately, it clearly suffers like mad."

What the Fight's Really About: Thieme's position is clearly well-intentioned but in the same paragraph that she admits "anyone who practices a religion has the right to their own religious truths" she argues that "it is the task of the government to intervene and curb the freedom of religion" in order to preserve an animal or human's welfare. This may be so, but, as Jacobs and other proponents of kosher-style slaughter purport, stunning an animal before it's killed doesn't necessarily make its death less painful. Should a government, then, be allowed to ban a certain type of slaughter--of animals that would be slaughtered either way--if it's not indisputably proven to be inhumane, especially since the practice in question is one of religious importance to many people? Not unlike San Francisco's new attempt at banning circumcision, the decision of whether to carry out kosher slaughtering practices seems like it would be better left to one's personal preference.

Who's Winning Now: The verdict is still out on this one. According to the NIS report today, a majority in the Parliament's Lower House "recently backed the proposal to ban ritual slaughter," but "whether the cabinet will support the House is not yet clear. Additionally the Labour opposition party, under pressure from its Islamic supporters, appears to be withdrawing its support from the proposal. House hearings scheduled for this week have now been postponed until mid June, so we will just have to wait and see who ends up getting their way.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.