A European politician has advanced an idea he described as a plan to minimize animal suffering. Only his horrific proposal has nothing to do with improving the lives of animals, whether of the wild, domestic or farm variety.
The politician in question, Gottfried Waldhausl, who serves as a local minister in the state of Lower Austria, is listed as “minister in charge of animal welfare” for the conservative Freedom Party of Austria.
Lower Austria, which has significant farming and livestock operations, surrounds but does not include the national capital of Vienna, where most Austrian Jews reside.
In a story in the New York Post, it was reported that Waldhausl wants to create a national registry of Jews, so that only Jewish citizens would be permitted to buy kosher meat.
The premise — allegedly — is to “reduce the number of animals slaughtered every year.”
As The Post noted, the proposal was “a chilling echo of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.”
Not to mention that Hitler’s first aggressive move upon consolidating power as Der Führer was the 1938 “Anschluss,” or unification plan, for his native Austria, which he accomplished by ordering German troops to march into the country to annex the German-speaking nation into the Third Reich.
According to Waldhausl’s comments on the Austrian news site Kurier.at, Jews would only be allowed to buy kosher meat if they are officially registered and granted a special permit. Even beyond that, he suggested that only registered Jews who actually live in Lower Austria should be allowed to obtain kosher meat, as he “hoped to curb exports” to Vienna and elsewhere.
“We are checking whether the meat requirement can be linked to the place of residence,” he was quoted in The Post. “It is difficult to see why the Viennese travel to Lower Austria and have thousands of animals slaughtered here. We are not here in Lower Austria to provide meat to the Viennese.”
Before addressing the obvious problem, let’s be clear about one aspect of this disturbing tale. The ritual of kosher slaughter is illegitimate as an issue of animal welfare. No less an authority than Temple Grandin, acknowledged as the world’s foremost authority on animal handling as it applies to livestock, has stated without reservation that kosher slaughter — if conducted properly — is no more painful to the animals than conventional stunning.
Thus, whether ritual slaughter is minimized or expanded has no significant impact on animal welfare.
As a committed veganista, you can oppose all meat production, no matter how food animals are raised and/or harvested, but there is simply no basis for singling out kosher (or halal) slaughter for special consideration in regard to animal suffering.
That said, there is one reason, and one reason only, that a reactionary like Waldhausl would propose something as clearly discriminatory — and utterly unmanageable — as forcing people to register as Jews to buy kosher meat: Pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism, which dates back to some of Europe’s darkest days prior to the Second World War.
Let’s not forget that the market for kosher meats, whether in Austria or North America, far exceeds just the members of the Jewish community — and even that demographic is diffuse and less-than specific.
The reaction to Waldhausl’s proposal was swift and certain.
Kurier Editor-in-chief Helmut Brandstätter asked, “What's next? A separate class for Jews?”
Oskar Deutsch, the president of Austria’s Jewish Cultural Community, said that, “A list of Jews would be compiled like a negative Aryan clause,” referring to anti-Semitic laws implemented in Austria after Hitler’s annexation.
The controversial idea was also rejected by Lower Austria’s largest political party, the Austrian People’s Party. Klaus Schneeberger, Lower Austria party chief, was quoted as saying, “The regulations regarding slaughtering are regulated in the Animal Welfare Act of the Federal Government.”
He added that, “Nobody would, of course, need to register to buy kosher meat.”
Such responses are heartening, but don’t think for a moment that Waldhausl is merely some nutball out on the fringe of the political spectrum. As one commenter (among many) posted on the website Kurier.at, at least according to my rudimentary German: “Jews should register … to eat kosher meat. If you do not want to register, do not buy [kosher] meat anymore.”
That comment is but one step away from passing laws requiring the sewing of a yellow Star of David on people’s clothing.
We like to believe we’ve progressed far beyond the horrors of the past, whether inflicted by Nazis, communists or fascists of any brand.
Maybe not so much.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.