We are Dismayed
Na temat (On Topic), Polish news website, interviews AJC Executive
Director David Harris
Interview in English is below.
Na Temat: Why has the
AJC published such a harsh statement? Polish Jews will still be able to buy
kosher meat that will be imported to Poland from other countries.
David Harris: AJC sees the action of the Sejm as a direct attack on the freedom of
religion of Jews (and Muslims). It stigmatizes a central practice of the Jewish
religion, and thus has the effect of relegating Jewish practices to “inhumane”
status. In practical terms, not only will the importation of kosher meat make
the process considerably more cumbersome, but the Polish precedent could cause
neighboring countries to follow Poland’s lead and ban kosher slaughter as well.
Na Temat: In Poland
the Sejm’s decision has been met with a positive reaction. It is said in
general that the decision was made in order to prevent animals suffering while
being killed. How would you comment on this?
David Harris: In fact, kosher slaughter minimizes suffering. One cut of a sharp knife
severs the carotid artery, cutting off blood flow to the brain and causing
unconsciousness within seconds. Poland allows the shooting of animals for
sport, which results in terrible suffering for the animals. This leads many
observers to question whether the Sejm’s action was really motivated by concern
for the welfare of animals.
Na Temat: Do you
believe the Sejm’s decision is anti-Semitic?
David Harris: We have no basis for judging the motivation of Sejm members.
Nevertheless, the infringement upon Jewish freedom of religion suggests that
those voting against legalization of kosher slaughter may lack respect and
appreciation for Judaism, its age-old and central rituals, and its key role in
Na Temat: Do you
think that the rule introduced by the Sejm will harm Polish-Israeli and
worldwide Polish-Jewish relations?
David Harris: The Sejm vote actually defeated a Polish government bill upholding the
legality of kosher slaughter, so it is clearly not the current government that
is at fault for what has happened. Many in Israel and world Jewry see the
Sejm’s action as hostile to Judaism, but they also understand that there are
Poles, including the ruling coalition, who oppose a ban on kosher slaughter.
Na Temat: How do Jewish
communities in New York comment on the Sejm’s decision? Are they equally harsh
as the ones made by AJC?
David Harris: Virtually all Jews and Jewish organizations surely feel the same way
AJC does. Even Jews who themselves do not follow Jewish law are likely to be
dismayed at the idea that a traditional Jewish practice is condemned as
Na Temat: Besides
publishing a statement will the AJC undertake any other actions? Will
they be political actions? Will they lobby for and run campaigns on religious
slaughter in Poland?
David Harris: AJC will seek to do whatever we can to ensure that kosher slaughter
remains legal in Poland, a country with which we have had uniquely friendly
ties since the dramatic events of 1989. A model for such a campaign could be
the recent successful effort to have Germany reaffirm the legality of ritual
circumcision, when this practice came under legal challenge. This was done
principally through public education.
Na Temat: Could this
case damage Poland’s reputation? If so, what kind of damage could this decision
David Harris: Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski recently addressed the AJC Global
Forum in Washington, D.C. He spoke eloquently before 1,600 people of how a
democratic Poland treasured the role played by Polish Jews in the country’s
history, and stressed the importance of preserving and strengthening the
current Jewish community. All of this is jeopardized by the Sejm’s unwise
action, which has already led Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich to contemplate resigning
and can only tarnish Poland’s hard-earned status as a flourishing democracy
that protects freedom of religion and minority communities..
Na Temat: In
general, is religious slaughter permitted in other Western states?
David Harris: In general, yes. We know the United States best of all and there has
never been an issue here. This country takes very seriously full freedom of
worship and protection of faith communities. Indeed, those communities have
often stood together in support of common concerns. American Catholics and Jews
are a wonderful example of that kind of ongoing cooperation.