An Austrian state wants to compile an official list of its Jews — strictly for animal-rights purposes, of course.
According to a Vienna newspaper, the department in charge of animal welfare in Lower Austria has issued a draft decree to ban sales of kosher meat, with exceptional sales allowed only on the basis of permits individually issued to Jews who can prove they are observant.
Lower Austria State Councilor Gottfried Waldhäusl told the Wiener Zeitung that his department’s rules, described as a religious-freedom exception to broad limits on inhumane slaughter, are needed “from the point of view of animal protection.”
The purchase permit “would be rejected for me. Everything that is legally required to contain the exceptions” should be done, he said.
The move was, however, quickly repudiated by Austria’s federal government with a reminder that it has jurisdiction over animal-butchery rules.
“A registration of consumers who want to purchase kosher (and halal) meat will certainly not take place in Austria,” the Austrian Embassy to the U.S. said in a statement posted to its website and sent to The Washington Times.
Austria and Germany’s Jews were nervous though, considering Austria’s history of Holocaust collaboration and as the birthplace of Adolf Hitler. Vienna was once one of the centers of Jewish life and culture in Europe, but almost all Austria’s Jews were either killed in the Holocaust or fled to Israel and the Americas during or after World War II.
“What next, a star on the chest?” the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office wrote on Twitter in German, according to a Washington Times translation done with computer assistance.
“It suggests that Jews in Lower Austria should register and prove their religiousness in order to buy kosher meat,” the AJC wrote.
Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community in Vienna, said that in practical terms, the proposal would require compiling a list of Jews, which he likened to “a negative Aryan clause” referring to lists compiled in the 1930s and 40s under Hitler that provided a valuable assist in adminstering the Holocaust.
“What I personally find shocking: We’re essentially talking about lists again. This is thus a demand for a list of names that will be entitled to buy and consume kosher meat in the future … you have a list with names of Jews who live observant,” Alexia Weiss wrote in the Wiener Zeitung, according to a Times translation of the original German.
There are broader implications than Austria’s tiny Jewish community.
“This is an attack on Jewish + Muslim life!” the Berlin AJC wrote.
The Wiener Zeitung report did not say whether Lower Austria’s draft decree also would apply to halal meat and, in practice, similarly require a Muslim registry.
Both Judaism and Islam teach that meat is only fit for human consumption if, among other things, the animal is conscious and the throat individually cut. Animal-rights advocates call such practices cruel and Lower Austria’s rule is not the first effort they have made to limit the practice.
Some of the political associations set off alarm bells among Jews and in Israel also.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, Mr. Waldhäusl “is the state’s only cabinet minister from the populist Freedom Party, which was created by a former Nazi SS soldier in the 1950s and opposes immigration from Muslim countries.”
The Freedom Party is a junior partner in the coalition that leads Austria’s national government, alongside the Austrian People’s Party.
However, according to the Austrian Embassy’s statement, the nation’s federal government will not be implementing any such regulation and the states do not have the right to enact their own.
“Regulations regarding the slaughtering of animals are a federal competence. Which means that any new regulation or law would have to be enacted at federal level, as only the enforcement is being carried out by the states,” the Embassy said.
Citing federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Gernot Blümel, the federal minister for the European Union, the Embassy said the Austrian federal government is “clearly committed to our Judeo-Christian roots and will continue to defend them against any form of attack … I can assure our Jewish fellow citizens that their freedoms and fundamental rights will be upheld and in no way limited.”
“Nobody will have to register to buy kosher meat. There will be no such thing, Klaus Schneeberger, the regional leader of the Austrian People’s Party, also told Austrian TV network ORF.