Chas Newkey-Burden

You can oppose shechita - or behave like a grown up

Thursday 9th 2010f December 2010

I know what the teenage me would have said about shechita. Back then I was pretty passionate about animal rights.

I wore a badge, handed out leaflets, signed petitions and even had a noisy pop at my local MP (the gruesome David Mellor, then working in the vivisection department of the Home Office) when I saw him in the high street. Forgive me the latter, I was young (and he was far from a friend of Israel so let's not lose too much sleep over it).

So yes, I know what the teenage me would have thought about shechita; he would have hated it. But, to use one of my Mum's phrases, one grows up, doesn't one? Now, when I see the growing campaign to clampdown on shechita I see it for what it is. I'm glad that the latest attack seems to have been fought off, but I am sure there will be more to come. And as we saw in New Zealand, where shechita was almost banned altogether, these campaigns can be well-organised.

Although I no longer involved in animal rights campaigning, I am still very much for the welfare of animals. I actually see little contradiction between this and my support for shechita. In fact, I wonder how many of those involved in the anti-shechita campaign genuinely care about animals. Have they not listened to the experts who declare shechita the most humane form of slaughter?
The campaigners' motivations are often suspect.

As Shechita UK said: "There are also those whose opposition has little to do with animal welfare but is motivated by ill-will toward Jews." This is a serious accusation and one that is made with justification. I am reminded of those who protest so noisily against Israel. Their protestations would appear more sincere if they even occasionally acknowledged that there are conflicts and controversies elsewhere in the world.

It is the same here. As Brian Gordon argued in these pages last week, the anti-shechita mob are mostly silent about other, often more cruel, slaughter techniques. Their singling out of shechita speaks volumes. And I must say that

I find it a touch absurd to hear gentiles lecturing Jews about animal welfare. You don't need to be a bookish philosemite to know that Judaism is the bedrock of compassion to animals.
Many of the anti-shechita mob also speak out against halal slaughtering. They are motivated by a hatred religion of any kind. Johann Hari, who rarely saw a religion-bashing bandwagon he didn't want to hop onto, recently dismissed shechita as nothing more than barbarism originating from "some hallucinating desert nomads".

Juvenile, condescending stuff. It is this atheist fundamentalist strand of the campaign which will be the most determined. These folk will not rest in their bid to make the lives of religious people as empty, depressed and vacuous as their own. Shechita is just one of many fronts they are fighting on.
The honest wing of the campaign is that of vegetarians who oppose shechita along with every form of animal slaughter. I believe vegetarians are to be hugely admired, as are those meat-eaters who make a quiet, sincere effort to avoid eating the meat of animals that were farmed cruelly. Those who are happy to eat meat but also want to impose their ill-informed judgement about slaughter methods on the rest of us need to pause for reflection.

So on balance I oppose any attempt to ban shechita, or to single it out for special labelling. I opposed the move to specifically label goods made in Israeli settlements, as well. A happy by-product of the settlement labelling was that it made it easier for those of us who want to buy settlement goods to find them. But that was not the intention of those who proposed the move.
As for those who pretend to see nothing but cruelty in shechita, but overlook the cruelty in many other forms of slaughtering, theirs is a flawed and narcissistic bandwagon. Like shouting at your local MP in the high street, it would be forgivable in childhood but a little embarrassing beyond that.
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