The Dutch ban smacks of racism

How did it come to this? It was never inevitable that the Dutch parliament would vote in favour of banning religious slaughter, but once the animal rights ball started rolling, it became harder and harder to stop.

Geert Wilders's Freedom Party has emerged as one of the strongest opponents of religious slaughter, but the ban is less the result of a coherent policy than a clumsy - and now perhaps regretted - attempt to ride popular anger over 'inhumane killing'.

Earlier this year Marianne Thieme, the leader of the Party for the Animals, introduced a private law proposal to prohibit ritual slaughter without stunning. Later, the spokesman of the Freedom Party on this issue, Dion Graus, called religious slaughter "ritual torture". He argued that his party was not against Muslims, since the ban would also hurt Jews. In this way, Mr Graus once again turned Jews into an unwilling instrument of Dutch politics.

Many wonder why Mr Wilders allowed Mr Graus to go that far out on a limb. The Freedom Party is not only a strong defender of Israel, which it considers a bastion of the free world against Islam. It also leads the fight against growing Dutch antisemitism.

They turned Jews into an instrument of Dutch politics

There are various possible explanations for the Freedom Party's stance on slaughter. One is that Mr Wilders was preoccupied with his recent incitement trial while his party's position on the issue began to lead a life of its own through members such as Mr Graus. Others claim that this was an attempt to make political capital out of what appeared to be a small issue that then grew out of hand. The majority of Dutch people are against slaughter without stunning for emotional reasons. It is irrelevant to them that the scientific reports on which Ms Thieme based her proposal have been heavily criticised by experts on the subject. Mr Wilders did not realise that religious slaughter would become a major topic in Dutch public debate. It currently draws more attention than the possible collapse of the euro.

Mr Wilders may have scored an own goal. For him, building up an international anti-Islam movement is probably more important than trying to become prime minister. However, he may now have compromised potential support from US Jews and evangelicals.

There is a distinctly antisemitic dimension to this proposed law. Firstly, Jews will be its main victims since almost all Dutch Muslims are willing to eat meat from stunned halal slaughter. In addition, industrial farming causes huge suffering to millions of animals. So why pick on 15,000 animals slaughtered according to religious practice?

Last updated: 9:40am, July 1 2011