Austrian state wants to force meat-consuming Jews and Muslims to register, drawing Nazi comparisons
July 19 at 6:54 AM Email the author
A participant wears a kippah during a âwear a kippahâ gathering to protest anti-Semitism in front of the Jewish Community House on April 25, 2018 in Berlin. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
BERLIN â" Nazi comparisons have become such frequent occurrences almost anywhere in the world that they rarely draw attention these days. But in Adolf Hitler's birth country, Austria, they usually still strike a nerve whenever they come up.
They certainly did so this week, after Jewish organizations criticized the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÃ), the ruling coalition party in the state of Lower Austria, over pursuing a proposal that would require Jews to register with the government if they seek to purchase kosher meat. The same rules would apply to Muslims.
âThis constitutes an attack on Jewish and Muslim life,â the Berlin-based American Jewish Committee wrote in a response. âSoon with a star on the chest?â the Jewish advocacy group asked, referring to the Star of David badges that Jews were forced to wear during parts of the Nazi era. Striking a similar tone, Vienna's âIsraeli Cultural Communityâ association branded the law proposal an âAryan paragraph.â
Austria's FPÃ has had a number of Nazi scandals in recent years and has been accused of stirring anti-Semitic sentiments, but this time the right-wing populists consider themselves to be treated unfairly by their critics. âThis law proposal dates back to 2017, when it was drafted by the Social Democrat during his last days in office,â Alexander Murlasits, an FPÃ spokesman, told The Washington Post o n Thursday.
âAll we're doing now is to follow the rules. This is absolutely not about religion â" it's about animal protection,â said Murlasits.
The party's critics won't buy that defense, though. Since joining the Austrian right-wing government coalition last year, FPÃ officials may have refrained from openly embracing some of the anti-Semitic rhetoric that the party has been accused of employing in the past. But for years, its top members paid for advertisements in a right-wing extremist magazine that is openly hostile to Jews, according to a study by several research institutes and a human rights organization. The study, published earlier this year, found support for anti-Semitic hate speech among at least some FPÃ members.
The FPÃ's coalition partner, the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÃVP), has struggled at times to overcome its hesitations to team up with a party so controversial that Israeli officials refuse t o communicate with it. During this week's debate over the Lower Austrian law proposal, ÃVP officials refused to back their far-right allies. Meanwhile, the Social Democrats who were voted out of office last year are denying the FPÃ's accusations that they are behind the legislation and say that the law proposal was never meant to apply to consumers, but to butchers slaughtering kosher or halal meat.
While both meats are produced without pre-stunning, kosher and halal techniques are in fact meant to reduce the suffering of animals, Jewish and Muslim advocates say. Critics have doubted that halal and kosher slaughter is indeed less painful than the more widely used procedures.
In a letter sent to a Jewish community organization in Austria, Lower Austria FPÃ cabinet minister Gottfried WaldhÃ¤usl indicated that he shared the animal rights concerns but would not seek a general ban on kosher and halal meat. Freedom of religion is âof course something that shou ld never be questioned,â he wrote.
Jews and Muslims would still be allowed to purchase kosher and halal food, but only if they can prove that they live in Lower Austria and are observant members of their religious communities. Sales would be restricted to a certain amount of meat per week. Effectively, this means that restaurants would no longer be able to offer halal or kosher options, either.
A spokeswoman for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGÃ), an organization that defends the religious interests of Austrian Muslims, shared the criticism from Jewish associations this week, saying that it was bringing back "memories of one of the darkest chapters in recent history.â
The proposal, she told Austrian media outlets, âwas in reality meant against us, given that the FPÃ has long stirred tensions against Muslims and divided the country.â
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