THE HAGUE (AFP-EJP)---Jewish and Muslim representatives Thursday appealed to Dutch lawmakers not to enforce plans requiring animals to be stunned before halal and kosher slaughtering rituals.
"We are against any form of stunning because it's against our religion," Yusuf Altuntas, president of the CMO -- an organisation that links the Muslim community with the Dutch government -- told a parliamentary commission.
"One of the first measures taken during the Occupation (during World War II) was the closing of kosher abattoirs," Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs added during the debate in The Hague.
Dutch law required animals to be stunned before being slaughtered but made an exception for ritual halal and kosher slaughters.
The country's Party for Animals (PvdD) which holds two seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, earlier this year submitted a proposal, if implemented, would see this exception abolished.
Dutch media widely reported that the PvdD's proposal was expected to get a majority nod from parliamentarians, but a timeframe was not given.
The proposal was backed by Geert Wilders’ extreme-right Party for Freedom (PVV), which often uses Dutch secular values, such as support for gay rights, as a wedge issue against Muslims and other minorities.
The governing, mainly secular Liberal party also decided to back the law along with the opposition Labour party, while the main opponents of the ban are the Christian Democrats, along with a tiny Calvinist party, the SGP.
"The animals suffer more and are more distressed if they are not stunned," Esther Ouwehand, a PvdD parliamentarian told AFP.
"By getting this modification in the law, we hope to inspire other countries," she added, pointing out that in Norway and Sweden these measures had already been taken.
More than two million animals -- mainly sheep and chickens -- were being subjected to ritual slaughter every year in the Netherlands, the PvdD added.
Abdelfattah Ali-Salah, director of Halal Correct, the organisation which issues halal certificates in the country, however called the figure "inexact".
He said some 250,000 animals were slaughtered yearly without being stunned beforehand.
Jewish and Muslim representatives Thursday insisted ritual slaughter respected the animals' welfare, notably restriction methods used to limit suffering and that those slaughtering received expert training.
"If we no longer have people who can do ritual slaughter in the Netherlands, we will stop eating meat," Chief Rabbi Jacobs said.
They did however offer to implement some measures which they said would ease the animals' suffering, especially better controls in abattoirs where ritual slaughters were performed and an improvement in conditions under which
animals were being transported.
Kosher slaughterers say their rules are intended precisely to prevent suffering. They spent the first two years of their 10-year training learning to sharpen knives so smoothly that the animal should not feel anything when its throat is cut. Knives are rectangular, with no point, to prevent stabbing.
For Motty Rosenzweig, the only remaining shochet or kosher slaughterer in Holland, it is the latest sign of rising religious intolerance in a country where broad-mindedness has been a defining value since the 17th century.
"The country has changed. They’re not friendly any more to any religious needs people may have," he said. His grandfather, also a kosher slaughterer in Amsterdam, died in the Holocaust, as did 75 per cent of the Jews in Holland.
"They’re making us feel they want us to get away, leave the country."
Many Jews and Muslims see the ban as part of a growing European hostility to immigration and diversity. Geert Wilders has called for Holland to ban the burka after France curbed the public wearing of the Islamic face veil. Politicians including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron have proclaimed the failure of multiculturalism and anti-immigration parties such as in Finland have been increasingly successful in the polls.
In Britain, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who was also invited to the Dutch parliament debate, warned that shechita could soon come under threat in his country if Dutch politicians accept the proposal to ban the practice.
He warned that "urgent and immediate" action needed to be taken. "There has been some momentum building up against shechita," he said. "The truth is that in a global environment the threat to Jewish life anywhere becomes a threat everywhere and hence I am calling for vigilance."
For a different reason, former Dutch EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein recently recommended that practicing Jews in Holland emigrate to Israel because he doubted the government’s ability to protect them from the increasing onslaughts of Islamic immigrants.