With the Conservative leadership election dominating news headlines, it’s hardly surprising that the JC was one of the few papers to cover a major international conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief hosted by the UK government in London last week.
Two days of speeches and addresses from dignitaries, religious leaders and government ministers proclaimed the importance of religious freedom to all in attendance. Due prominence was given to the violent persecution being endured by Christians in countries like Pakistan and Nigeria; and the campaigns of ethnic cleaning of Muslim groups like the Uyghurs by the Chinese Communist Party and the Rohingya by the military junta in Myanmar.
The Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Secretary of the Muslim World League and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis all emphatically spoke of the value of religious freedom and all received resounding applause. It was an important, welcome and much-needed event.
In reality, however, all this clapping, the conference fanfare, and speeches, whilst truly welcome, revealed a worrying dissonance between these expressions of support and the true state of religious freedoms in Europe. In recent years, the UK government has generally been exemplary in standing up for Jewish religious freedoms but the situation on the continent remains a matter of serious concern.
Legislation across Europe continues to trample wantonly over the religious rights of thousands of citizens. Shechita is banned in several European countries, and the outlawing of Kosher meat production remains a constant looming threat. Other key elements of Jewish life, like Bris Milah and Jewish education, also come under attack from time to time and need to be protected.
Some FORB speakers took an almost dismissive approach when we mentioned the alarming fact that the Finnish Government is considering bringing forward legislation next month that would ban Shechita. There was barely any mention of the fact that Brussels, the city-region that hosts the EU institutions, narrowly avoided imposing a similar ban to the other two Belgian regions just a few weeks’ ago or that Shechita is banned in Denmark and Switzerland or that the matter is unclear in Greece and Cyprus. There was hardly a peep about the fact that supposed human rights luminaries like Sweden and Norway still have such bans in place that were imposed after the Nazis made a ban on Kosher meat the first legislative act of their anti-Jewish agenda. The list goes on and on.
These conferences must go beyond words. From the podiums, demands must be made to protect religious rights in law and challenge any country proposing to do the opposite. The situation around many parts of Europe remains a matter of serious concern. If we want to credibly face down the worst abusers, we have to make sure that we also have our own houses in order.
First published in the Jewish Chronicle: https://www.thejc.com/lets-talk/all/fine-words-at-conferences-are-not-enough-religious-freedom-is-under-threat-12ROv93YSDo8ErHOKtBMiF