Commentary Magazine


Topic: kashrut

UKIP’s Selective Democracy and the Jews

A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

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A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

UKIP (the UK Independence Party) is actually far more moderate than its reputation would suggest. And unlike in France, it’s conceivable that an anti-EU party in Britain could pull the UK away from the union. That’s because Britain isn’t in the union with both feet. And it’s also because mainstream parties like the Conservatives have a strong and eloquent faction of Euroskeptics among them.

UKIP, in other words, gets a bad rap. Unfortunately, they’re starting to live up to it.

What’s concerning about the rise of the French far right is that a militant anti-Muslim posture, aside from being animated by discriminatory ideas, will do no good for non-Muslims either. You can’t have religious freedom for only some of your citizens and still be free.

UKIP is demonstrating this with its new anti-halal campaign.

The latest controversy started with the revelations that hidden cameras in a halal slaughterhouse had captured “horrifying” abuse of the animals before and during the slaughter. Muslims have been fighting against the government’s preference that animals be stunned before being slaughtered, and this appears to have turned public opinion back against them.

UKIP responded by calling for a ban on any slaughter in which the animal isn’t stunned first, in essence simply removing the religious exemption. As other similar bans have shown, this would outlaw the kosher shechita process as well. UKIP’s attempt at reassurance to Britain’s Jewish Chronicle sounded as though a Tory plant had dressed as a UKIP minister and set about sabotaging the group’s standing:

A senior Ukip member has claimed that the party’s ban on non-stun slaughter, announced today, was against his wishes.

MEP Stuart Agnew, the party’s agricultural spokesman, said: “We are a democratic party and I couldn’t get enough support. They didn’t like my tolerance of non-stunning.

“They have decided to override me on this occasion. I’m not going to say they were wrong.”

But Mr Agnew said the policy was not meant to target shechita.

“This isn’t aimed at you – it’s aimed elsewhere – it’s aimed at others.

“You’ve been caught in the crossfire; collateral damage. You know what I mean.”

Yes, we know what you mean. And that statement is a bumbling masterpiece.

First, the UKIP spokesman said that he was forced to go along with the outlawing of basic tenets of Judaism and Islam because they “are a democratic party.” I don’t know if he appreciated the irony of defending the proposal that the government stomp on individual rights in the name of democracy, but it’s not comforting.

His second part of the “defense” of the UKIP vote was more honest. The Jews are simply “collateral damage.” It’s possible he meant this in a positive way too, something like: You folks are usually the target of populist authoritarianism, so in a way you’ve graduated.

He might be comparing Britain to France here. Maybe UKIP thinks that because they’re not threatening violence, outlawing Jewish practice in this way is not the really bad kind of authoritarian nationalism. But in fact it’s not really fully accurate to say they’re not threatening violence, is it? After all, such laws are backed up by the force of the state, so we’re not talking about simply peer pressure here.

We’ve seen similar efforts in the U.S. get struck down by the courts, if they even get that far. For a while “anti-Sharia” laws were all the rage, but they often amounted to unconscionable infringements on religious liberty. (In one case an anti-Sharia law raised fears it would, as written, outlaw Jewish divorce.)

In Britain’s case, UKIP’s selective democracy works against the Jews twice over. Not only must Jews’ religious liberty be eroded because UKIP votes on its asinine schemes, but Jews are also not present in high enough numbers to make UKIP pay at the ballot box–or, at least, not in high enough numbers to stop a ritual slaughter ban from being a net-gain for UKIP:

Mr Agnew said he believed that the policy was put forward to win votes ahead of the general election.

He said: “There are more votes to be gained, and I expect that’s what they were looking for.

“We’ll have lost the Jewish vote for sure, they won’t support us now for sure – we won’t get any now.

“But we might gain votes elsewhere – and that’s what they’re after, general election votes.”

This is a perfect example of what a glorious document our Constitution, with its attendant amendments, is. Britain has a tradition of freedom and republicanism from which we get our own. But that tradition here was, wisely, codified and made explicit. UKIP’s members like to think of themselves as a party geared toward liberty. But it’s clear they don’t know the meaning of the word.

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The UK’s Growing Disregard for Religious Liberty

The debate about ritual slaughter appears to be about to erupt in Britain in a significant fashion. Already pundits there are beginning to discuss the matter in terms of religious freedom, which may seem sensible given the very real way in which this matter pertains to Jewish and Islamic practices. Yet, if anyone in Britain is hoping to make the case in defense of ritual slaughter by invoking the value of religious liberty then they are wasting their time. In recent years law makers and the courts in the United Kingdom have displayed a profound disinterest in religious liberty if and when it conflicts with the left-liberal values that Britain’s elites adhere to with a sense of conviction as strong as any religious faith.

With Denmark having recently outlawed ritual slaughter, the conversation has now come onto the agenda in Britain also. The London Times has given over its front page to a piece highlighting calls by John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, to either have ritual slaughter reformed, or if not, banned outright. Blackwell places the emphasis on the notion that slaughter without stunning causes unnecessary suffering to animals. Yet, this is an immediately problematic argument even according to the terms that it sets for itself. Since no doubt vegetarians would retort that all forms of slaughter cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Similarly, one might just as well say that the farming of battery hens causes unnecessary suffering to the birds in question. But the public likes their eggs cheap, so it goes on.

Writing at the Telegraph Christina Odone aptly titles her piece on the subject; I don’t want to live in a Britain that prizes its cows more than its Jews. But for sometime now Britain has prized a great many things over and above its religious groups. In the rights agenda that now plagues most western democracies, minorities are continuously competing to have their demands met under the banner of human rights. Yet, increasingly religious minorities are losing out in this struggle.

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The debate about ritual slaughter appears to be about to erupt in Britain in a significant fashion. Already pundits there are beginning to discuss the matter in terms of religious freedom, which may seem sensible given the very real way in which this matter pertains to Jewish and Islamic practices. Yet, if anyone in Britain is hoping to make the case in defense of ritual slaughter by invoking the value of religious liberty then they are wasting their time. In recent years law makers and the courts in the United Kingdom have displayed a profound disinterest in religious liberty if and when it conflicts with the left-liberal values that Britain’s elites adhere to with a sense of conviction as strong as any religious faith.

With Denmark having recently outlawed ritual slaughter, the conversation has now come onto the agenda in Britain also. The London Times has given over its front page to a piece highlighting calls by John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, to either have ritual slaughter reformed, or if not, banned outright. Blackwell places the emphasis on the notion that slaughter without stunning causes unnecessary suffering to animals. Yet, this is an immediately problematic argument even according to the terms that it sets for itself. Since no doubt vegetarians would retort that all forms of slaughter cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Similarly, one might just as well say that the farming of battery hens causes unnecessary suffering to the birds in question. But the public likes their eggs cheap, so it goes on.

Writing at the Telegraph Christina Odone aptly titles her piece on the subject; I don’t want to live in a Britain that prizes its cows more than its Jews. But for sometime now Britain has prized a great many things over and above its religious groups. In the rights agenda that now plagues most western democracies, minorities are continuously competing to have their demands met under the banner of human rights. Yet, increasingly religious minorities are losing out in this struggle.

In recent years there have been no shortage of lawsuits where religious individuals have been stripped of their freedoms in the name of advancing human rights. Perhaps just a couple of examples will suffice here. While in 2002 Britain changed the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt, in 2011 the High Court sided with social workers who were preventing certain Christian couples from being allowed to foster if they refused to endorse homosexuality as a lifestyle to the children they were fostering. When throwing out the case of a specific Pentecostal couple the judges stated, “we live in this country in a democratic and pluralistic society, in a secular state not a theocracy.”

In 2009 it had been the turn of the Jewish community to be subjected to this kind of thinking. That year Britain’s newly formed Supreme Court ruled that Jewish schools were practicing racial discrimination by following their tradition and only admitting children who were Jewish by religious law; be that according to matrilineal descent or Orthodox conversion. But in hyper-politically correct modern Britain, once this was framed as racism, the schools didn’t stand a chance.   

Of course, those coming out in support of a ban on ritual slaughter claim that they are in no way motivated by hostility to either Jews or Muslims. Yet, in a country where one can still go shooting deer for sport, it is surely legitimate to question the motives of those driving this campaign. Indeed, in another opinion piece featured in the Telegraph, this time by Harry de Quetteville, there is a rather striking anomaly. The article primarily consists of a fairly gritty description of an unauthorized and ad hoc slaughtering of sheep by a group of Muslims, witnessed by the author, behind some apartment buildings in Paris. What then to make of the fact that the image accompanying the piece is a photograph showing two ultra-Orthodox Jews in a darkened abattoir?

Britain, like the rest of Europe that is moving to outlaw ritual slaughter, is increasingly not only a secular but also a decidedly anti-religious place. There the interest in environmentalism and animal welfare is becoming infused with a neo-Darwinism that holds that man is really just one of the animals in any case. Ritual slaughter like circumcision, which also faces being outlawed in Europe, seeks to make a clear distinction between the animal and the human by ritualizing and elevating that which would otherwise be entirely animalistic.

Those promoting the notion of religious freedom in an attempt to defend these practices can do so all they like, but Britain and Europe now consider themselves subject to a ‘higher’ system of values.  

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