As Director of Public Affairs at the European Jewish Association (EJA), I am well used to the whack-a-mole type laws affecting Jewish faith and practise that pop up regularly across Europe.
Whether its laws curbing the practice of Kosher (ritual) slaughter, or attacks claiming that Brit Milah (Circumcision) should be outlawed or even criminalised, prior to lockdown much of my time was spent hopping from one capital to the other, making our case, mostly thankfully marshalling enough support to stop things in their tracks.
It’s frustrating work trying to convince people who understand little of Judaism, even less of the centrality of our commandments, why these issues cannot simply fall under the negotiable, amendable category, but are the very cornerstones, the very essence of what makes a Jew.
On Thursday morning I had hope in my heart on the issue of Kosher slaughter. The European Court of Justice was making a determination on whether a Belgian ban on slaughter without prior stunning was an infringement of one of the EU’s fundamental rights – that of Freedom of Religion.
What gave me this hope? Back in September the Attorney General of the Court, in an opinion, said that bans on Kosher slaughter impede that fundamental right of Freedom of Religion, enshrined in the EU’s own charter of fundamental rights.
We at the EJA collectively thought that there’s no way the court would slap a community already struggling under the twin weight of the pandemic and across the board rises in antisemitism, never mind go against their own attorney general. After all, every Leader in Europe has said that European Jewry needs to be supported and protected.
A reasonably safe bet, right?
So, I had our press release on the European Court ruling ready. Our media team had it translated into French, Italian, German. I called the press office of the Court and had them send me the decision and statement the second it was announced. We were primed and ready.
The problem was I had completely the wrong press release ready. We were wrong.
Instead, and like a sharp blow to the stomach, at 9.42am on Thursday morning, I read the first few lines of the statement, and then the complicated decision. I sent it to our legal wizzkid who 5 minutes later said simply “scrap the whole thing”, referring to our pre-cooked response - “they ruled against us”.
In short, the Court made a clear decision. Jewish rights, Jewish practice, Jewish belief now enjoys second class European status. Behind animal rights, behind hunting.
I can assure you it pains me to write these words. I can also assure that I am in no way sensationalising the issue. This is what the court decided. Of course, they won’t say it in my words, but as a Jew, I can tell you, that’s what it tells me.
You know the irony of the situation? I keep Kosher-style, so a ban on Kosher meat doesn’t even affect me or my family per-se. But I want to re-iterate, it affects me and every Jew across Europe profoundly, deeply, painfully, whether we are practising or not.
Why? Simply put our traditions are not archaic remnants, but a living, breathing manifestation of our beliefs. It is never a matter of adjusting to the latest in vogue trend, or “getting with the times”, this is much more fundamental than that. It is our very essence. How we have lived generation after generation. Ok, some of us may not choose to live by all the rules, but they are our rules. They have sustained us, given us our identity for millennia, putting us at odds with Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians...and now it seems the European Institutions.
Because just like that, with the stroke of a pen, at 9.42 am on Thursday this entire glorious, proud and steadfast people were relegated to second class European status.
Behind men and women on horses chasing foxes and rabbits around fields in order to tear them to pieces with hounds, and worse, behind the cattle that are led into the mass industrial complexes dedicated to their “humane” slaughter by a bolt to the head before the final cut is made.
This isn’t an argument about procedure, and the vast majority speak on the ‘whack a mole” issues with as much authority as a drunk in pub, completely ignorant of Jewish law that puts the welfare of the animal first and foremost. That unlike the majority of people who work in industrial slaughterhouses, the shochet (Jewish slaughterer) trains for years, is conscientious, caring and gentle.
But what gets me the most is the rank hypocrisy of Europe towards Jews. The well-meaning pats on the back when our synagogues are attacked, our people spat on, cursed at, murdered on European streets. “Europe isn’t Europe without Jews” these people say. They commission reports, they publish them. They line up after a synagogue is firebombed. “We love you’ they say, “we are with you.”
How utterly two-faced this is. How morally reprehensible it is. Tell us we matter on one hand, legislate our way of life out of existence in Europe on the other.
I want to be clear. On Thursday morning the Jew was once again relegated to second class status in Europe.
And the leaders said nothing.
By Alex Benjamin