Muslims and Jews in Europe hammer out strategies for blocking bans on ritual slaughter, circumcision


AMSTERDAM (JTA) — A spokesman for one of Europe’s major intergovernmental agencies told Jews and Muslims at an event about attempts to limit religious customs like kosher slaughter and circumcision  that “[d]iverse communities must join together in the face of intolerance and discrimination.”

Ilan Cohn of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, made the assertion following a two-day roundtable meeting on nonmedical circumcision of minors, ritual slaughter of animals and other religious customs that it organized in the Dutch capital this week for European Jews, Muslims and anti-racism activists.

Dozens of Jewish and Muslim community leaders, as well as anti-racism activists, attended the event Tuesday and Wednesday — one of the largest Jewish-Muslim joint gatherings ever held on these issues in Europe.

“Diverse communities must join together in the face of intolerance and discrimination,” Cohn, a project manager at the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said in a statement about the need to build national advocacy coalitions for religious fights. “Forming strong, interfaith coalitions is a very promising method of helping to safeguard everybody’s right to freedom of religion or belief, while also building bridges between communities.”

Among the participants were Rabbi Andrew Baker, the personal representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office on combating anti-Semitism; Bülent Şenay, his counterpart at the OSCE for combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, and Joel Rubinfeld, the president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA.

Cohn’s office said the summit provided an “opportunity for Jewish and Muslim community leaders to learn how to build sustainable national advocacy coalitions that promote tolerance and non-discrimination.”

The event included work sessions that featured case studies and exchange of information on the status of religious freedoms in European countries and initiatives to limit them.

In recent years, a growing number of European governments and parliaments have introduced legislation and regulations limiting religious customs, and particularly non-medical circumcision and ritual slaughter of animals, which are performed by Muslims and Jews.

In 2012, a court in Germany ruled that non-medical circumcision of boys younger than 18 constituted a violation of their rights, triggering several bans, which were ultimately lifted.

This year, all three regions of Belgium introduced regulations banning various techniques of ritual slaughter of animals performed by Jews and Muslims.

Such bans are supported by liberals who say the practices are cruel, as well as by nationalists who view them as a foreign import to predominantly-Christian societies.

In 2011, the Netherlands’ lower house banned ritual slaughter of animals without stunning the animal first, but the Dutch upper house reversed the ban the following year. Slaughtering an unconscious animal is contrary to Jewish law.

Earlier this week, leaders of the Dutch Jewish community, represented by the Organization of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands, signed an extension of the community’s 2012 agreement on ritual slaughter with the government. The extended deal, signed with the Dutch agriculture minister, states that Jewish communities are free to perform ritual slaughter as per their customs.

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