BERN, Jan. 30 (JTA) — Switzerland´s Jewish community is gearing up for a fight with an animal rights group that wants to bar Jewish ritual slaughter. Shortly after the government launched a campaign to end a century-old law barring ritual slaughter, the Swiss Animal Association has called for a referendum on the issue. In addition, the referendum would ask Swiss citizens whether the import of kosher meat should be barred. According to the latest poll, 76 percent of the population would support the twin bans if the referendum were held today. Shechita, or Jewish ritual slaughter, is widely believed to be a humane form of slaughter. Most European countries — with the exception of Switzerland and Sweden — permit shechita. Animal rights groups, who have lobbied actively on the subject, long have threatened to seek a national referendum if the government allows shechita. The electorate has the right under Swiss law to hold a referendum on almost any legislative initiative. Swiss Jewish leaders reacted with indignation to the proposed referendum. "I have the feeling that the initiators of the referendum want all Jews to leave the country," Thomas Lyssy, vice president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland, told the Swiss daily newspaper Blick. If the referendum passes, he told Swiss Television, "religious Jews would be able to live here only if they become vegetarians — or they would have to emigrate to another country." The issue has prompted an anti-Semitic backlash in a country that has experienced such backlashes in recent years, after Switzerland came under international pressure to settle a variety of Holocaust-related claims. Swiss Jewish leaders have been receiving hate mail connected to the shechita issue. One such letter, mailed to Alfred Donath, president of the Federation, said that if "Hitler had finished his job properly, we would not have the whole problem." Donath told JTA that "despite the threats of a new outburst of anti- Semitism," the Swiss Jewish leadership would "fight for the right of shechita, which is a basic human right according to a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights" in Strasbourg, France. The World Jewish Congress has vowed to help the Swiss Jewish community. "The Swiss Jews have our full support in this struggle for the freedom of religion," Avi Beker, the newly installed secretary-general of the WJC, told JTA. In an interview with the Swiss news magazine Facts, Beker said the WJC plans to "use all our political influence" on this issue. But that may not be necessary: On Wednesday, the Swiss Justice Ministry announced it may block the referendum because it seeks to enact a law that would conflict with the basic human rights guaranteed by the Swiss Constitution.