World Jewish News
Katharina von Schnurbein: 'Religious slaughter is part of religious freedom'
13.06.2017, Jews and Society
’Religious slaughter is part of religious freedom,’’ says Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission Coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, when asked in an interview with European Jewish Press about the new laws in Belgium against religious slaughter of animals and in Norway against the brit milah, the Jewish religious male circumcision.
‘’We have made clear this during the 60th anniversary convention of the Conference of European Rabbis,’’ she added.
She adds: ‘’The religious communities should be free within the laws. The European legislation permits the slaughter and the brit milah within a certain framework, for example that the kashrut must take place in slaughterhouses and brit milah be executed by professionals."
In the interview she also notes that in several countries in Europe recorded ani-Semitic incidents are record high, such a in the UK.
‘’Clearly anti-Semitism hides behind anti-Zionism,’’ von Schnurbein says. She refers to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism which was recently adopted by the European Parliament. ‘’It is a good guidance tool to recognize the rend line between anti-Israel positions and anti-Semitism.’’
For Katharina von Schnurbein, who has been in her position since 2015, Jews have a future in Europe. ‘’Yes of course. This is what we strive for. Normality of Jewish life in Europe must be our ultimate aim. Fighting anti-Semitism is fighting for the very soul of Europe.’’ ‘’Jews should be able to make the same choices as all other citizens whether observant or secular, whether they want to send their children to public or Jewish schools. The ultimate goal must be: normality.’’
Here is the full interview:
EJP: “Is anti Semitism growing in Europe?”
KvS : ‘’Yes we have seen a rise of recorded anti-Semitic incidents in many European countries. In several countries recorded incidents are record high. In the UK roughly three incidents were recorded per day in 2016. In France, the incidents decreased by 61% last year mainly because the security measures that has been taken after the attack at the HyperCacher market in Paris in January 2015. In Germany there has been a slight decrease, probably because some of the right-wing extremist perpetrators redirected their hatred towards asylum seekers and refugees. It is horrible that seventy-two years after end of the Shoah, some Jews ask themselves whether there is a future for them in Europe. The driver behind our initiatives must be that Jews will be able to live in Europe without fear. Jews should be able to make the same choices as all other citizens whether observant or secular, whether they want to send their children to public or Jewish schools. The ultimate goal must be: normality.’’
EJP: "Is Anti Zionism a new form of anti Semitism? What about BDS? "
KvS: In Europe we see different forms of anti-Semitism . The largest number of recorded incidents still goes back to traditional right-wing anti-Semitism. But clearly anti-Semitism hides behind anti-Zionism. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted a definition of anti-Semitism in May 2016. This legally non-binding definition is a good guidance tool to recognize the red line between anti-Israel positions and anti-Semitism. This definition was adopted by the European Parliament last week with a recommendation to EU Member States to adopt and apply the definition. It states that criticism against Israel similar to that against other countries cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic. But questioning Israel's right of existence or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination is clearly anti-Semitic. So far three EU member states have adopted the definition, the UK, Austria and Romania.
With regards to the BDS movement, the EU’s High Representative (for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) Federica Mogherini has clearly stated that any form of boycott against Israel is inacceptable. With regards to anti-Semitism, we are particularly worried when BDS actions, for example on university campus, have negative repercussions on Jewish students, they don't feel safe anymore and think twice about wearing their kippah. Then activities that are meant to highlight injustice actually create discrimination.
EJP: "In Belgium there are new laws against religious slaughter of animals and in Norway against the brit milah. What does it mean for the Jews?"
KvS: "During the 60th anniversary convention of the Conference of European Rabbis we made clear that religious slaughter is part of religious freedom. The religious communities should be free within the laws. The European legislation permits the slaughter and the brit milah within a certain framework, for example that the kashrut must take place in slaughterhouses and brit milah be executed by professionals."
What is the European Commission doing to fight anti Semitism?
"We are convinced that fighting anti-Semitism needs a holistic approach. We need to use all tools within the existing legal framework to bring perpetrators of hate speech and hate crime to court. We encourage Member States to train their law enforcement authorities to better recognise hate incidents with racist bias, including recognizing the various forms of anti-Semitism. This legislation includes the criminalisation of Holocaust denial inciting to violence or hatred, but only 15 countries out of 28 European countries have implement this legislation correctly. We are putting pressure to ensure the transposition.
What is illegal in the real world is also illegal online. The general increase in hate speech and anti-Semitism on the internet is very worrying. Under the leadership of EU Commissioner for Justice, Vera Jourova, the European Commission concluded a code of conduct with the major Internet companies – Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Youtube. Under the code, the companies pledged to revise and if necessarily review within 24hours illegal hate speech that is flagged to them. Over the past year they have increased training of their own staff and some are financially supporting NGOs that help monitor the situation. We want to see a real change on the ground and work closely with NGOs that monitor the progress. A second report that we published last week shows that there is progress when it comes to the speech in which flags are revised and also the level of take-downs. But we need to see more progress when it comes to transparency for the reasons of take-down or refusal.
We also work closely with the European Commission's Education Department and with the Education ministries of the European countries. Education is a long time process. Now that less and less survivors of the Shoah are with us, we need to ensure that remembrance continues in ways that young people can relate to it, that we do not just look at the dark chapters, but also the rich Jewish culture in Europe throughout the centuries and also what it means to live as a Jew in Europe today.
On the preventive side, coalition building is also important. We support Jewish communities and NGO's that reach out to other minorities to stand up for each other when facing discrimination and hatred. Last week Jewish youth organisations came together in a joint day of action with Muslim organisations. We look at the perception of Muslims in the media. We also presented a security guide for Jewish communities published by ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights).
EJP: Sometimes Jews and Muslims, both minorities in Europe have common interests. How do you see the cooperation between these two communities?
KvS: Close cooperation between Jews and Muslims is always very symbolic and there are some issues that concern both, such as the discussion around circumcision or ritual slaughtering. They are stronger when they address the authorities with a common position. When you wear a kippah and you are attacked, or when you wear a headscarf and you are punched in the face, it’s the same fear, the same feeling of insecurity and the same injustice. On local level there are a lot of projects that involve both communities. Here in Brussels, for example, there are regular Muslim-Jewish football games and a Muslim-Jewish women’s club. Such initiatives need to be supported.
EJP: Do Jews have a future in Europe?
KvS: Yes , of course. This is what we strive for. Normality of Jewish life in Europe must be our ultimate aim. It is important that Jews have the possibility to choose their way of life without fear. Jews are European citizens and should lead their lives just like anybody else, whether observant or secular, whether they want to send their kids to Jewish schools or public ones. When antisemitism is rising you know that something bigger is going on. So really, fighting anti-Semitism is fighting for the very soul of Europe.