ROTTERDAM // Jewish and Muslim organisations in the Netherlands in a rare show of unity have condemned the adoption of a law in the Dutch parliament that would ban most ritual slaughter. Representatives of both religious groups have said that they hope to block the law in the senate or challenge its legality on the grounds of freedom of religion.
Many in the Muslim and Jewish communities regard the law, proposed by the small Dutch animal-rights party, as having been passed mainly on the back of growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe.
The animal rights party leader, Marianne Thieme, said after the vote: "I think the legal sphere still has to get used to the idea that the welfare of animals sometimes limit freedom of religion."
In France, the former film star Brigitte Bardot launched a campaign to ban ritual slaughter in January, and Switzerland, which has a long-standing ban, is considering extending it to meat imports.
Mohammed Cheppih, a founder of the short-lived polder mosque that was aimed at reconciling Islam and Dutch society, said: "This would never have happened, were it not for the current political climate. It says that Muslims are in fact not welcome."
The ban on ritual slaughter without prior stunning may not pose a problem for at least a part of the Muslim community, Mr Cheppih said. "In practical terms it does not mean much but it has symbolic importance."
At least some Islamic groups in Europe accept a form of stunning before the ritual slaughter of animals, although most mainstream organisations reject it. But in orthodox Judaism the prohibition on stunning is absolute. While the ban appears to be primarily aimed at the country's more than 1 million Muslims, it may come as more of a blow to the tiny Dutch orthodox Jewish community.
The Dutch chief rabbi, Binyomin Jacobs, said: "The very fact that there is a discussion about this is very painful for the Jewish community." During the Second World War, Rabi Jacobs said, the Germans' first measure upon occupying the Netherlands was to ban ritual slaughter.
In fact, the existing bans on ritual slaughter in European countries all appear to have been the result of anti-Jewish sentiment at the time. Switzerland passed its ban at the end of the 19th century, when its Jewish population had doubled in a short period, while Norway, Sweden and Luxemburg passed anti-ritual slaughter laws in the 1930s at a time of rising anti-Semitic sentiment.
The ban on ritual slaughter in the Netherlands garnered widespread support in parliament, including backing from left-wing parties. But the support of the extreme right-wing, anti-Islam, Party for Freedom, PVV, led by the controversial politician Geert Wilders, raised most eyebrows.
The PVV and Mr Wilders were seen as backing the ban as a measure against Islam in the Netherlands. At the same time, the party has a reputation as being extremely pro-Israel and pro-Jewish.
Several commentaries in the Dutch press remarked that the PVV's support for the ban on ritual slaughter had "unmasked" its support for the Jewish community as being merely a function of its anti-Islam programme. "The PVV is not pro-Israel because it loves Jews, its fight against anti-Semitism is also based on its anti-Islam agenda," wrote the historian Asher Ben Avraham in the Dutch daily de Volkskrant.
The ban on ritual slaughter comes amid renewed debate on immigrants and Islam in the Netherlands. Last week Mr Wilders was acquitted on charges of incitement to hatred in a trial that was started last year. The court's main conclusion was that he targeted Islam, a religion, rather than Muslims as a group.
On Tuesday, as parliament passed the law against ritual slaughter, the leader of the mainstream Christian Democrats, one of the parties in the minority coalition that depends for its survival on the PVV, seemed to adopt many of Mr Wilders's ideas.
In a speech to a conference on populism, the leader, Maxime Verhagen, called the Dutch concern over immigration "understandable" and "justified" although he said that he disagreed with Mr Wilders's solutions.
Mr Verhagen's party together with smaller Christian parties voted against the ban on ritual slaughter because they regarded it as impinging on the freedom of religion. Several left-wing parties succeeded in amending the law before the vote to allow ritual slaughter without prior stunning if it can be shown that this does not create extra suffering for the animal. But the amendment was widely derided as purely symbolic because of the difficulty in meeting the burden of proof.