Israeli Arabs Challenge Kosher Meat Law, Claim Religious Coercion

'Arab citizens are forced to buy and consume imported meat, and must consume meat whose method of slaughtering, the parts that are permitted for eating, and the taste of the meat are forced upon them.'

Yaron Kaminsky

The High Court of Justice will soon hear a petition by an Israeli Arab meat importer against the Economy Ministry to be exempted from the state’s meat law, which makes importing meat contingent on obtaining a kashrut certificate from the Chief Rabbinate.

The petitioners argue that the law is tantamount to religious coercion of the Arab population. Adalah filed the petition in the name of the Ahmad Effendi meat company and other Christian and Muslim Arabs. The petition cited data showing the kashrut demands constituted an undue economic burden on the Arab importer, who has no interest in importing or selling kosher meat.

The petitioners assert that the demand of meeting kosher standards from the rabbinate costs on average 424,000 shekels ($110,400) monthly. Most of the costs ultimately get passed onto Arab consumers, who don’t keep kosher, or the company absorbs the costs, which leads to severe losses that turn imported meat into an economic burden.

Iyad Effendi Awada, the company’s CEO, told Haaretz that the petition for him is another stage in the struggle that started with the failed attempt in 2008 against the Industry and Trade Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate to import unkosher meat.

“There is a principle here against religious coercion,” he said. He said that the company, which operates solely within the Arab community, should not be obliged to fulfill kashrut conditions. He added that the costs of ritual slaughtering and koshering animals for a company like his that imports small amounts compared to the big importers and monopolies makes the business unprofitable. According to him, the meat law was driven by political needs at the time.

Attorney Sawsan Zaher, representing the petitioners, asserts in the position that because of the kashrut process, “Arab citizens are forced to buy and consume imported meat, and must consume meat whose method of slaughtering, the parts that are permitted for eating, and the taste of the meat, are forced upon them because of the implementation of Orthodox Jewish rules or rules of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel upon them, and they become hostages to these kashrut laws.”

The petition mentions a 1993 case involving kosher imported meat, in which the meat law was upheld, but said this case was different because it pertains to the Arab community. Moreover, the petition argues the earlier case had to do with freedom of business, whereas this case is a matter of the human dignity of Arab citizens as a minority.

“The violation of freedom of religion and freedom from religion when it involves a national and religious minority is 10 times as serious when it does not take into account the needs of this group in a way that allows religious coercion of the minority, strengthens the message to the group that it has an inferior status and that its needs are not taken into account,” the petition stated. “This message is a hurtful message, and violates the constitutional right to dignity in contravention of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.”

The petition mentioned a number of examples of exempting the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel from enforcing certain laws. For example, the law against raising pigs does not apply in communities where the majority of residents are Christian Arabs and the matza law permits the sale of leavened products in places where most residents are not Jewish. Most recently, an Arab radio station was allowed to broadcast on Yom Kippur in the wake of an Adalah petition.

The petition also asserts that the law violates Israeli Arab vocational rights in general and Ahmad Effendi’s in particular, citing examples from abroad of laws exempting minorities in order to allow them to conduct their lives according to their faith. It cited a 2004 case from Canada in which Orthodox Jews were exempted from a bylaw forbidding the construction of structures on balconies so they could erect a sukkah.

The Economy Ministry commented that the moment it received the petition it would respond to the High Court of Justice.