Will the Dutch Government Do the Right Thing and Stand Up for the Universal Rights of Religious Minorities?

Despite heavy lobbying and vocal opposition by the European Jewish community, the lower house of the Dutch Parliament voted this week to require that an animal be stunned before it is slaughtered. This move effectively outlaws the slaughter of animals in accordance with hallal ritual as well as shechita which is the ritual slaughter of animals required by Jewish law to make it permissible to eat meat.

On Thursday June 30, in response to the vote, Washington attorney Steve Lieberman and I met with the Dutch Ambassador to the United States, Renée Jones-Bos.

We explained to Ambassador Jones-Bos that this legislation places the Netherlands on the wrong side of history as it associates the Dutch with those throughout history who have singled out Jews for isolation and oppression.

We explained to the ambassador that we passionately believe that shechita is the most humane manner of killing an animal and that, in fact, it is more humane than the stunning approach advocated by animal rights activists.

We asked why those who claim that this law is meant to protect animal rights have not managed to outlaw hunting in Holland? Or why this --of all possible causes--is apparently the signature legislative accomplishment of this fringe animal rights group? Indeed, when pressed by us, the Ambassador and her aides could not recall for us another instance in which this very small animal rights party was able to bring about the passage of any other legislation.

The ambassador said that the government was waiting to see if this legislation would pass the Dutch Senate (a necessary requirement in order to become law) and only then would the government take a formal position on the matter.

I told the ambassador directly that while I respect the fact that she and her government are bound by certain political necessities, I firmly believe that such an approach is insufficient and potentially dangerous.

This is not the time for politics; this is not the time for the Dutch government to be weighing the risk of losing the votes of animal rights supporters against the fundamental universal rights of religious minorities.

The implicit message of this legislation is that since Jews practice a cruel and backwards ritual they are therefore an uncivilized people who engage in Neanderthal behavior.
This is a very scary idea to be putting forward, especially in a Europe that is increasingly plagued by social unrest.

Every day that the Dutch government remains quiet about this is another day for those noxious beliefs to float around the country and infect more and more people.

Thus, this cannot be a situation where the Dutch government takes the politically expedient position of waiting to see what the Dutch senate does. They must choose the moral high ground and speak out on behalf of the now vulnerable religious community.

Finally, we told the ambassador that if the Dutch government does not act with courage then we would look into our own legal options; i.e. whether or not the Dutch are the ones who are violating international law and deserve to be listed on the State Department's annual anti-Semitism report.

If there is any group that is inhumane in all this it is the members of the lower house of the Dutch Parliament. They have chosen to side with those who have historically persecuted people for their sacred and ancient religious preferences and are now struggling to understand how to live in a world that respects religious practices.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is rabbi of Ohev Sholom--The National Synagogue, the oldest and largest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C. His writings are archived at www.rabbishmuel.com.