Muslim and Jewish leaders have condemned last month’s ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU, EU’s highest court, upholding the decree by the Flemish region of Belgium outlawing the ritual slaughter called for in Muslim and Orthodox Jewish law.
The decision affects Belgium’s Muslims and those Jews who keep kosher households—Antwerp hosting one of the largest ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Europe.
Before the decision in September, Gerard Hogan, Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union published an opinion stating that the Flemish ban should be overturned because it runs counter to an exemption in the 2009 European Union Council Regulation 1099 “on the protection of animals at the time of killing.” His views were that upholding the ban would “compromise the essence of the religious guarantees contained in the Charter for those adherents of Judaism and Islam respectively for whom these religious rituals are of profound personal religious importance.”
European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor called the ruling “a heavy blow to Jewish life in Europe,” saying that it “in essence tells Jews that our practices are no longer welcome,” and that telling Jews “that their ways are not welcome is just a short step from telling Jews that we are no longer welcome.”
He said, “The right to practice our faith and customs, one which we have been assured over many years was granted under European law, has been severely undermined by this decision.”
Miqdaad Versi, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, called the ruling “appalling.” He tweeted, “What we will see is the ECJ continuing to fail to protect minorities as states across Europe introduce laws targeting Muslims & impacting others—here, Jews,”
Israel’s foreign ministry said the verdict sends “a harsh message to all European Jewry,” and that “beyond the fact that this decision harms the freedom of worship and religion in Europe, a core value of the EU, it also signals to Jewish communities that the Jewish way of life is unwanted in Europe.” It further stated, “It is important that a way is found to change the decision and enable Jewish EU citizens to hold Jewish practices.”
Yohan Benizri, president of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations, the governing body of Belgian Jewry, and vice president of the European Jewish Congress, called the decision “not only disappointing, but undemocratic,” and said that “No democracy can exist when its citizens are denied basic human and civil rights.” He plans to “pursue every legal recourse to right this wrong.”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations and the European Jewish Association, said, “This is a sad day for European Jewry. For decades now, as animal rights have come into vogue, kosher slaughter has come under relentless attack, and subject to repeated attempts to ban it.”
“What today’s ruling does is put animal welfare above the fundamental right of freedom of religion. Simply put, beast takes preference over man,” he said.
The Conference of European Rabbis said in a statement that “The bans have already had a devastating impact on the Belgian Jewish community, causing supply shortages during the pandemic, and we are all very aware of the precedent this sets which challenges our rights to practice our religion.”
They went on to state, “Europe needs to reflect on the type of continent it wants to be. If values like freedom of religion and true diversity are integral, then the current system of law does not reflect that and needs to be urgently reviewed.”
At issue is the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for the right to “manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
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