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Despite Court Ruling, the EU is Still Committed to Ensuring Jewish Life in Europe

Since the European Court of Justice ruled last December on kosher slaughter, newspaper headlines have claimed that the EU bans kosher slaughter and outlaws Jewish religious practices, signaling that Jews are no longer welcome in Europe. But this is explicitly untrue. Under current EU law, kosher slaughter is allowed, but national government bodies are given wide discretion regarding the need to bridge the gap between animal welfare and the preservation of religious freedom. The question of where to draw the line is the subject of a heated debate among Europeans, and the judges of the European Court of Justice have decided to leave the answer to this sensitive question at the doorstep of the EU’s 27 member states. The ruling caused frustration among the Jewish community. The European Union is based on democracy and the rule of law, and we are committed to adhering to all decisions of the court. At the same time, the union is fully committed to ensuring that Jewish life continues to prosper and that every Jew feels at home and welcome in Europe. As the Council of the European Union concluded a month ago: “We are grateful that 75 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life, in its various shades and manifestations, is once again thriving in Europe. It is our constant and shared responsibility to actively protect and support Jewish life.” And yet, the myth that the European Union outlawed the practices of the Jewish religion continues to resonate, and this kind of misinformation is detrimental to the cultivation of Jewish life and the fight against anti-Semitism. The European Commission is currently working on developing a comprehensive strategy to combat anti-Semitism; it will be the first of its kind and will be published soon. For a long time, we have been funding many projects with the aim of securing Jewish institutions and restoring Jewish heritage sites. I’ll mention just a few examples: last year, the commission earmarked over 11 million euro for projects designed to improve the protection of religious places of worship, including synagogues. The union also provides significant financial support to the European Cemeteries Project in Europe. In addition, we are funding a digital project for the restoration of Jewish cultural assets, as part of which we are developing a comprehensive database of Jewish-owned cultural assets looted by the Nazis. We are allocating over 9 million euro for the establishment of a European infrastructure for Holocaust research. We completely reject suggestions that the European Court of Justice is guided by anti-Semitic sentiments. The fact that the union is fully committed to the lives of Jews, including the fight against anti-Semitism, has received the approval of the Israeli authorities and Jewish groups around the world. On January 8, after the European Commission published a guide to the practical definition of anti-Semitism, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed its appreciation for “Brussels’ uncompromising commitment to combating the phenomenon of ugly and dangerous anti-Semitism.” Recently, the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ron Lauder, praised the commission for its conclusions and called them “a significant step forward in making Europe a better place for Jews.” At the same time, we must remain attentive to the concerns of the Jewish community regarding its religious traditions. European Muslims have also been harmed by the tribunal’s ruling, which could create opportunities for a Jewish-Muslim partnership to explore possible solutions that guarantee religious freedom while minimizing animal suffering. To this end, the European Commission maintains a constant dialogue with representatives of the Jewish community. The debate over the right balance between animal welfare and religious freedom will continue to exist within our societies. Our uncompromising commitment to cultivating Jewish life in Europe remains a non-negotiable commitment. –Emanuele Giaufret, EU ambassador to Israel (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)