NEW YORK - In a significant setback for religious minorities in Belgium, the country’s French-speaking Wallonia region unanimously passed a bill which would effectively ban kosher and halal meat production.
With the law set to go into effect in 2019, the only recourse for the Jewish and Muslim groups is a court challenge.
Pinchos Kornfeld, president of Antwerp’s Machzikei Hadas kehillah and vice chairman of the Belgian Jewish Consistoire and chairman of its Shechitah Committee, told Hamodia that advocates for the community would “most probably” pursue a legal battle.
“We have lost the battle, but we have not lost the war,” he said. “We will do all that we can, and a kapitel Tehillim never hurts, either.”
There is reason to believe that opponents of the law could succeed in court. In February, a similar attempt by the Walloon parliament met with disapproval from the nation’s Council of State, a constitutional court, saying that it would “contradict basic human rights laws and religious rights.”
Still, Mr. Kornfeld said even if the case would reach the same high court, victory would not be guaranteed as challenges are heard by different panels of judges.
Belgium requires that all animals be electronically stunned before slaughter, but have given exemptions for kosher and halal slaughter, which both forbid the practice. The present law ends those exceptions, making it impossible for Jews and Muslims to produce meat according to their religious laws in Wallonia.
Seventy-three members of the Walloon Parliament voted in favor of the bill in Wednesday’s vote, while two members of a far-left party that has strong Muslim backing abstained. Mr. Kornfeld said that he was not surprised by the result, saying the measure was very popular and that politicians “are afraid of the voters.”
Lobbyists for the bill included animal rights activists who have increasingly joined forces on the issue with nationalist elements seeking to ban religious slaughter as a means of curbing the size and influence of Muslim communities in Europe.
Slaughter without pre-stunning is presently illegal in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.
Wallonia is one of three semi-independent regions in Belgium. The others are the mostly Flemish-speaking Flanders, and Brussels, which has large populations of both Flemish and French speakers.
Wallonia has a very small Jewish population. Much of the meat used in Belgium is imported from abroad, but a good deal is produced in a slaughterhouse located in the Brussels region.
Attempts are presently underway to introduce similar legislation in Flanders, whose capital city, Antwerp, is home to one of Europe’s largest Orthodox communities.