PARIS — In the wake of Poland’s ban on kosher slaughter, France is awaiting the outcome of a battle of its own.
After proposing special labels on July 17 for halal and kosher meat, Sen. Sylvie Goy-Chavent has encountered fierce criticism in France and Israel.
Accused of anti-Semitism by Jonathan-Simon Sellem, the editor-in-chief of JSS News — the main French-language media outlet in Israel — Goy-Chavent filed a police complaint last month over death threats she says resulted.
Already an established opponent of ritual slaughter, Goy-Chavent became a participant in the latest flare-up after she was asked by the Senate to investigate the French meat industry following Europe’s horsemeat scandal in early 2013.
Goy-Chavent’s work drew her attention to a loophole in French law that allows animals to be slaughtered for kosher and halal meat — unlike all other meat products — without first being stunned, since Judaism and Islam require animals to be conscious before their necks are cut.
“Instead of calling for an outright ban on ritual slaughter — which I very well could have done — I opted for compromise,” Goy-Chavent told the Times of Israel, “and asked for meat to be labeled in an non-stigmatizing way, which would indicate the way the animal was slaughtered.”
The move generated criticism at a pair of Senate hearings even before Goy-Chavent issued her proposal.
During a May appearance before lawmakers, Mohammed Moussaoui, a former president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, argued that separate labels on meat would have to be “fair,” and “never stigmatize Muslims or Jews.”
That argument was made again during a second hearing on June 26 by Rabbi Bruno Fiszon, an expert on kosher slaughter, and Joel Mergui, the president of the Central Israelite Consistory of France, which provides religious services to Jewish organizations.
“If consumers are told that the meat they buy wasn’t stunned before slaughter, and there is at the same time a campaign seeking to convince people that ritual slaughter is synonymous with barbarism, then we are against this policy,” said Mergui.
Both Jews and Muslims argue that ritual slaughter, which produced 14 percent of French meat in 2010, is no less humane than modern methods.
Mergui also pointed out what he considers a double standard in the Senate investigation, which focused on ritual slaughter but left aside hunting and bullfighting, which remain legal.
“Europe would honor itself if it viewed ritual slaughter as a legitimate method of slaughter, not as a debasement of the law. We are fed up with being a debasement,” he said.
Although the debate on ritual slaughter has simmered for several years — in 2011, then-Prime Minister Francois Fillon declared “these ancestral traditions don’t mean much” in a “modern society” — the latest round came to national attention on July 13, when Sellem’s website published an article with a headline that suggested Goy-Chavent might be anti-Semitic. The essay noted a letter in Le Parisien last year in which Goy-Chavent urged President Francois Hollande to outlaw religious slaughter, as well as her call in the past for separate labeling for products from the West Bank.
“But no, she isn’t focused on Israel,” Sellem concluded. “And no, she isn’t anti-Semitic. Well . . . .”
The French senator subsequently decided to press charges against the website. She said she’s received death threats from Internet users, without mentioning where they appeared.
Among the most violent comments on the JSS website, one featured a call to “slash her neck and see how long it takes her to bleed.”
In a public letter addressed to Hollande and published on her Facebook page July 27, Goy-Chavent wrote that many people, including Parliament members, have advised her “to be extremely cautious, and even mentioned a possible intervention from a foreign country’s special services,” interpreted by many as a reference to Israel.
To Sellem, the reaction was “over the top.”
“I admit that the comment posted on the website is not particularly refined, and I firmly condemned the torrent of insults against her, but clearly she has to take a step backward and look at this situation from a distance,” he told the Times of Israel. “This comment was ironic — it was certainly not a death threat.”
“I don’t care much about labeling kosher and halal meat, but I’m worried that this is just the first step before an outright ban on ritual slaughter,’ Sellem said, referring to last year’s letter in Le Parisien.
“First comes kosher meat, and then what? Circumcision? How about outlawing prayer books in Hebrew because it’s not secular enough? ” he asked.
Since the most recent uproar began, animal welfare activists including the Brigitte Bardot Foundation — which condemns ritual slaughter as cruel — have expressed support for Goy-Chavent. In a case of strange bedfellows, so has the extreme-right National Front party.
The legislator, for her part, seems interested in lowering tensions, expressing regret to the Times of Israel for comments in which she dismissed defenders of ritual slaughter as “all Jews.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all Jewish people who have been hurt by what I said. This was not my intention,” Goy-Chavent commented. “But the insults that were hurled at me have been dreadful.”