Belgian ban on kosher slaughter has Jews worried about what comes next
By Cnaan Liphshiz, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 4, 2019
(JTA) — Antwerp’s Jewish community was still recovering from its Holocaust-era devastation when Wim van den Brande’s grandfather opened one of Europe’s largest kosher slaughterhouses.
Since its establishment in 1966, the Kosher Poultry factory grew together with the local Jewish community, which numbered only a few thousand people after Nazis and their collaborators murdered most of the Jews in Flanders — the Belgian region whose capital is Antwerp.
By the end of last year, van den Brande’s factory was processing 80,000 chickens a month — a testament to how the region’s Jewish population has more than quadrupled to 20,000 since 1945.
But all that ended last month, when a law banning methods used in ritual slaughter went into effect, forcing van den Brande, who is not Jewish, to fire his 10 employees and close up shop, in the hope of moving his factory to Hungary.
For van den Brande, 42, and hundreds of meat industry professionals, it means “an attack on traditions and on an entire industry,” he told JTA.
It has less immediate implications for Antwerp’s Jews — who can simply switch to importing customs-free kosher meat from elsewhere within the European Union trading bloc. Yet many of them view the law both as a declaration that they are not wanted in Belgium, and as the opening shot of further hostile action.
“On the ground, it makes little difference. We still have meat,” said Nechemiah Schuldiner, a leader of the Shomre Hadas Orthodox Jewish community of Antwerp. “The problem is the message it sends. It tells Jews: We don’t want you here.”
Schuldiner fears the law, which he considers a ban, is a “prelude to a ban on importing kosher meat,” and a move heralding “new restrictions, be in on milah or other elements of Jewish life.” Milah is the Hebrew word for circumcision of men.
The new law requires all animals be stunned before they are slaughtered. Jewish and Muslim religious laws require animals be conscious at the time of their slaughter. Jewish leaders also fear the same political forces — animal and child welfare activists, in league with anti-immigration groups — will move to ban ritual circumcision, performed by Jews and Muslims.
Michael Freilich, editor in chief of the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel Jewish magazine, disagrees that the law is a sign Belgian Jews were unwanted. The Flemish authorities, he said, have paid “a great deal of attention to the Jewish community and its needs.” But, he added, the methods for ritual slaughter are “too unpopular” in Flanders for the government to ignore.
The law in Flanders was born of a 2014 public debate about the slaughter of animals by Muslims in unregulated slaughterhouses. In Western Europe recently, animal welfare and child welfare activists have found unlikely allies in individuals and politicians critical of the impact of mass immigration to Europe by Muslims.
Jewish customs, similar to Muslim ones but ignored or tolerated for decades, have become collateral damage of this alliance.
In the Netherlands, a fringe animal welfare party in 2011 submitted a bill proposing a ban on all slaughter performed without stunning...