Three months ago I was in Poland as part of a UK Jewish Delegation, which organised by the Polish embassy in London. The purpose of our trip was to explore Jewish life in Poland and to strengthen relations between the communities. It was a fascinating trip during which we visited both town like Bobowa, Lezajsk and Nowy Sacz and big cities like Krakow and Warsaw. We felt very welcome and experienced great hospitality throughout the trip in a country which was home to the biggest Jewish community in Europe before World War 2.
On Tuesday during a debrief in the House of Commons about our trip, we decided to establish a Jewish-Polish forum to discuss issues which matters for our communities as we seek to strengthen relations and harmony between the Jewish and Polish community. We didn’t know that just few days later a major challenge will show up – I’m talking about the decision of the Lower House of Polish Parliament to reject a bill that would have relegalise the religious practice of Kosher Shecita and Halal.
Sadly the bill which the government introduced was defeated by 222 to 178 votes when 38 members of ruling party Civic Platform are voting against it. Poland’s chief Rabbi expressed his shock from the decision while the President of the Union of Jewish Communities said that ‘populism, superstition and political interests won out’. This issue in my opinion matters not just for the Jewish community in Poland but in Europe as a whole – once a precedent is created, other countries may follow and that can prove dangerous.
shechita ritual Photo: Nati Shohat/Vosizneias.com
The decision also acts affects the Polish economy, since Poland is a big exporter of Halal (to Muslim country) and Kosher meat (mainly to Israel) and value of exports is estimated at between £220m-£307m a year (between 252-351m Euros). There are 20 slaughterhouses in Poland which specialised in producing kosher and halal meat, and they employ 6000 people, according to the Polish agriculture ministry. It means now that other foreign firms will be able to generate revenues in these markets.
We already saw an assault by some countries in Europe on religious practices such as the circumcision. It is embarrassing that Jews are being discriminated in Europe in the 21st century, and we must ask ourselves some serious questions: isn’t it a violation of freedom of religion? Isn’t it a basic right of Polish Jews to practice their religion by eating kosher meat? Are they supposed to become vegetarians, to buy non-Kosher meat or to pay steep prices for imported meat? Can you imagine what would happen if the House of Commons would ban halal meat?
The battle for preserving and protecting our religious practices and identity will continue. We call on the Polish government to reintroduce the bill in the near future and make sure that Shechita and Halal are enabled in Poland. As we approach Tisha_B’Av and mourning the many disasters happened to us as Jews, we feel invigorated knowing that we will prevail.
Tal Ofer is a UK Member of European Jewish Parliament and can be found on twitter @TalOfer and his own website: www.talofer.com