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Jewish groups say ritual slaughter debate hijacked

Alfred Donath says the debate was hijacked by anti-Semites Keystone Archive

A government decision to maintain a ban on ritual slaughter has been endorsed by Swiss Jews, who say the debate was hijacked by anti-Semites.

This content was published on March 14, 2002 - 13:51

The head of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, Alfred Donath, said the organisation had backed away from its demand the government lift the ban because of the furious reaction provoked by the debate.

"The debate was hijacked by racist and anti-Semitic people," Donath told swissinfo. "Certainly most of the opponents of ritual slaughter are not so, but it gave anti-Semites the occasion to express their feelings."

He said hate letters had been sent to his office in Geneva, as well as to the government and newspapers, and that, as a result, he supported Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin's decision to keep the ban in place.

Couchepin announced the decision on Wednesday, citing strong opposition and the need to preserve religious harmony in Switzerland as reasons not to overturn the ban.

The chairman of the of the Jewish World Congress, Avi Becker, said he was disappointed with the news.

In a statement, he said: "The WJC regrets that Swiss Jews will not be able to maintain the traditional custom of ritual slaughtering according to Jewish law as is permitted around the world."

Infringement of religious freedom

The government had indicated that it was willing to scrap the ban, following a proposal which argued that it represented an infringement of religious freedom.

But the idea was greeted with outrage by a majority of cantons, animals rights and consumer groups as well as from vets and farmers, who argued that the practice inflicted unacceptable suffering on animals.

The Swiss Society for Animal Protection (PSA) launched a people's initiative in January opposing the lifting of the ban, describing ritual slaughter as an "archaic form of torture."

"When we saw the reaction to the proposal - and the strength and nastiness of the opposition - we realised it would have been impossible to obtain the majority needed to overturn the law," Donath said.

Ritual slaughter, banned in Switzerland in 1893, involves the bleeding to death of animals that have not been stunned first. The method is used to produce kosher and halal meat.

The Jewish community is now seeking assurances from Couchepin that new legislation will be drafted to allow the import of kosher and halal meat into Switzerland.

No surprise to Muslims

The government's announcement also came as no surprise to Switzerland's 200,000-strong Muslim community, which requires ritual slaughter to produce halal meat, according to Ismail Amin, president of Zurich's Islamic Association.

Joussef Ibram, from the Swiss Muslim League said the debate highlighted just how marginalised the community is.

"Racism is high here in Switzerland. We feel it in our Mosques and through contact with society - especially during this slaughter discussion. I think this emotional debate has revealed that we need to work hard at all levels to improve contact between the Swiss and Muslim communities," Ibram told swissinfo.

Under the proposal, ritual slaughter would have been allowed only within certain religious communities and with the approval of cantonal authorities. Designated abattoirs would also have been used for the practice.

Animal suffering

The PSA argues that ritual slaughter causes more suffering to animals than conventional methods, in which they are first stunned.

"The stress and anxiety an animal experiences when it is bled to death without being rendered unconscious are measurable," said Alain Zwygart, vice president of the PSA. "And it is scientifically proven that it suffers more than an animal that has been stunned."

Donath disagrees. "It is a fact that most people who oppose ritual slaughter are probably sincere, but they are not well informed," he said. "They have been told that it is more painful for the animal but it is scientifically proven that it is not the case."

The PSA is now seeking a ban on the import of kosher and halal meat. "We believe it's hypocritical to allow in meat that doesn't come up to the standards that Swiss farmers have to meet," Zwygart said.

The World Jewish Congress said it may resort to "political and juridical means" if the import of ritually slaughtered meat is banned.

by Samantha Tonkin

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