Earlier this year, I warned the European Parliament that Jews are no longer safe on the streets of Europe, with 90 percent of the continent’s Jews reporting that they feel anti-Semitism is rising in their home country.
But while the streets are a highly concerning matter in their own regard, the halls of government are another matter entirely. The last place where one would expect to witness bigotry and discrimination is in parliament, where elected lawmakers are charged with the sacred responsibility to protect civil rights, human rights and religious freedom in their societies.
Yet regrettably, we are seeing the frightening deterioration of this responsibility in Belgium’s regional parliament of Wallonia. Initially legislated in 2017, Wallonia’s ban on Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter went into effect at the beginning of this month and places Belgium on the growing list of European countries that have enacted similar laws.
As a former parliamentarian and now the leader of The Jewish Agency for Israel – the organization mandated with ensuring the spiritual and physical well-being of Jewish communities throughout the globe – I am compelled to speak out against this dangerous erosion of freedom of religion for Jews in Belgium and across Europe.
A ban on kosher slaughter is not exclusively an issue of freedom of practice for traditional kosher butcheries, although that is also a serious concern. This is an unacceptable infringement of general freedom of religion for the Jewish and Muslim communities alike.
Once thought to be relegated to the dustbin of history, restrictions on the practice of religion have re-emerged in recent years and are darkening Europe’s present skies. Indeed, this unprecedented limitation of religious freedom constitutes a slippery slope, the dire consequences of which must be prevented at the outset. It is no hyperbole to assert that a ban on a centuries-old Jewish tradition constitutes a potential forerunner of the expulsion of European Jews.
This issue is of the utmost personal and professional significance for me. Before he became the State of Israel’s first chief rabbi, my grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was the first chief rabbi of Ireland. I will not see religious freedom go extinct in Europe – not in my lifetime.
Meanwhile, at The Jewish Agency, we are staunchly committed to connecting Jewish communities and caring for their culture, education, safety and solidarity in any country where they may be. Working tirelessly to protect the religious freedom of European Jews falls squarely within the realm of this crucial duty, especially in dire times like the present.
For these reasons, I am committed to ensuring that the history of Europe’s darkest era does not repeat itself. I have personally implored André Antoine, president of the Wallonia Parliament, to do everything in his power to roll back his region’s ban on kosher slaughter and to re-establish freedom of religion for his entire constituency. Further, I direct the same plea towards all European legislatures who have enacted similar discriminatory laws.
I sincerely hope that my call will not fall on deaf ears. I will not stay silent as Belgian lawmakers shirk the responsibilities of their office. And I will not rest until the rights of my Jewish sisters and brothers in Europe are fully protected.
Isaac Herzog is Chairman of the Executive at The Jewish Agency for Israel.