Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger on Tuesday urged Dutch politician Geert Wilders to stop supporting a ban on ritual slaughter and to “disassociate” himself from his spokesperson for animal rights issues. Otherwise, Metzger said, the Jews would ultimately be forced “to leave the Netherlands.”
Metzger’s message to Wilders comes just one day after the leaders of the German Jewish community slammed the chief rabbi for his “unhelpful” involvement in the country’s circumcision controversy.
“I am shocked and upset to learn that your party once again has adopted a total ban on ritual slaughter,” Metzger wrote to the far-right politician, on paper bearing an official State of Israel letterhead. “By denying Jews [the right] to live according to the Torah you will eventually force them to leave the Netherlands, where they enjoyed religious freedom for centuries.”
Wilders heads the Party for Freedom, or PVV in Dutch, which stands to again become the third-largest faction in the Dutch parliament after the upcoming September 12 general elections. Though staunchly pro-Israel, Wilders, in his quest to alienate the Netherlands’ Muslim community by banning ritual slaughter, has also vexed many of the country’s 30,000 Jews.
The PVV supported a bill to ban unstunned ritual slaughter, which earlier this year passed the parliament’s lower chamber with a large majority but was later rejected by the Senate.
‘I am fully aware of your firm support of the Jewish state of Israel and do respect and thank you for this. But one cannot separate between the Jewish state and the Jewish people’
The Dutch Agriculture Ministry recently struck a deal with the Jewish and Muslim communities, which would allow ritual slaughter as long as a veterinarian is present in the slaughterhouse and provided the animal is administered a headshot if it hasn’t died 40 seconds after the first cut.
The PVV, however, still wants to prohibit killing unstunned animals entirely. “Ritual slaughter has to be prohibited by law. The Party for Freedom will support proposals for such legislation also in future,” the PVV says in its platform for the upcoming elections.
In his letter to Wilders, Metzger demanded the far-right politician get rid of the PVV’s spokesman for animal rights, Dion Graus. In the public debate about ritual slaughter in recent months, Graus repeatedly referred to the practice as “ritual torture” and pledged to work toward a law that would forbid the import of ritually slaughtered meat.
“Not a single party in Europe has gone that far!!” Metzger wrote in the letter.
“I am fully aware of your firm support of the Jewish state of Israel and do respect and thank you for this,” Metzger added. “But one cannot separate between the Jewish state and the Jewish people… It is obvious that one cannot be at the same time a friend of Israel and the Jewish people and on the other hand support an anti-Jewish law and be friends with Mr. Dion Graus.”
Metzger ended his letter with, “I hope to hear from you ASAP.”
The chief rabbi’s initiatives regarding the problems of European Jewish communities are not appreciated everywhere. On Monday, leaders of the Central Council of Jews in Germany complained to Israel’s ambassador in Berlin about Metzger’s involvement in the debate about circumcision currently raging in that country.
The dispute over brit mila in Germany began in June when a Cologne court declared the rite illegal. The debate intensified last week when criminal charges were filed against a German rabbi who has performed the operation hundreds of times. Metzger last week traveled to Germany, where he met with senior politicians and government officials, urging them not to touch the Jews’ right to conduct circumcisions as they please.
Metzger had “unnecessarily strained the debate and contributed to further uncertainty,” the German-Jewish leaders wrote to Israel’s Ambassor Yakov Hadas-Handelsman. “This is an unprecedented act of interference in the religious and political affairs of an independent Jewish community outside Israel.”
Criticism also came from the chairman of the General Rabbinical Conference of Germany, Henry Brandt, who said Metzger’s involvement was unhelpful because he was assuming authority that he did not really have. “He’s the chief rabbi of Israel; that is worthy of respect. But he isn’t the chief rabbi of Germany,” Brandt said.