Ritual Slaughter: Holland worse than Russia… or Switzerland?

Jews are growing bolder in their attack on the proposed ban on ritual slaughter in Holland. Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld wrote an op-ed in Volkskrant (April 19, 2011) under the title “Animals on the rise, Jews in retreat” He states that never before have so many Jewish organizations from abroad been campaigning against Holland. In February, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles began a campaign to influence major political parties in the Dutch Parliament.  Gerstenfeld notes that the chief rabbi of Moscow and acting chairman of the Conference of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt, wrote a personal letter to the Dutch Parliament stating that during the Soviet period Jews in Russia looked up to Holland as a beacon of religious tolerance. However, if ritual slaughter is banned, Holland would be in the same category as the Soviet Union.

Despite this attempt to link banning ritual slaughter with Soviet oppression, there were (and are) several countries with a fairly pacifist and democratic track record that have banned ritual slaughter and other aspects of Jewish culture. In Switzerland, one of the oldest states based on popular consent and grassroots democracy, ritual slaughter was banned as early as 1897, followed by Norway in 1930 and Sweden in 1937.

Nevertheless, anti-Jewish attitudes may have been one of the motivations behind the Swiss ban. Jews had been granted equal civil rights in 1874, and by the turn of the century the Jewish community almost doubled due to immigration from Alsace and Eastern Europe. This caused concern among the indigenous Swiss. The campaign to ban Jewish ritual slaughter was phrased in terms of preventing cruelty, but also had the effect of discouraging Jews from immigrating to Switzerland.  The ban on ritual slaughter was not a government decree, but was written into the Swiss constitution after a national referendum. Officially the ban was for the well-being of animals, but it only hit the Jewish community.

A ban on ritual slaughter seems to be a rather trivial topic to the average secularized modern Westerner, and far removed from their ordinary lives. But it is a typical example of the Jewish group evolutionary strategy. By establishing specific rules for the treatment of animals and the preparation of food, boundaries are drawn between Jews and the surrounding peoples. A true Muslim will abstain from alcohol and pork and therefore will not be seen anywhere near the famous Bavarian Oktoberfest, the annual high mark of Bavarian community life. Prohibiting certain food practices is a way of saying that minorities are unwelcome. It is an assertion of the majority culture, and it makes it difficult for minorities to sustain their own group identity. A good example of this evolutionary group strategy is the blocking of the Muslim expansion in Burma by the banning of ritual slaughter in areas which were under the control of Buddhist kings.

In Western Europe we see similar strategies applied to the way of life of Muslims. France prohibited the wearing of the headscarf in public schools since 2004 and recently a ban on burqas and niqabs went into effect. The ban on ritual slaughter in Holland in 2011 should be seen in the light of the rise of popular concern about sizeable groups of Muslims in the big cities. In Switzerland there is already a proposal underway, which is supported by Blocher’s anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party, to extend the ban on ritual slaughter to imported meat. This proposal will be subject to a national referendum, true to the Swiss democratic tradition which dates back more than 700 years.

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