Austrian State May Require Jews to Register to Buy Kosher Meat

Gottfried Waldhäusl, a cabinet minister in the state government of Lower Austria, defended the plan as necessary 'from an animal welfare point of view'

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File photo: Meat for sale at a grocery store.
File photo: Meat for sale at a grocery store.Credit:

A regional politician in Austria defended a plan to limit access to kosher meat, conditioning its sale on permits that would be individually issued to observant Jews.

The Wiener Zeitung daily reported Tuesday about the draft decree in the state of Lower Austria, one of nine states that make up the federal Republic of Austria. Gottfried Waldhäusl, the cabinet minister in the state government of Lower Austria who is in charge of animal welfare and several other portfolios, defended the plan as necessary “from an animal welfare point of view.”

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Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish Community in Vienna, warned that, in practice, the plan would require compiling a list of Jews, which he called “like a negative Aryan clause,” referencing racist laws passed by Nazi Germany and implemented in Austria after its merger with Germany in 1938.

The American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office also referenced Nazi decrees in opposing the plan. “Soon with a star on the chest?” a spokesperson for the group wrote on its official Twitter account. “This is an attack on Jewish and Muslim life! #Anti-Semitism.”

The Austrian Ambassador to Israel tweeted Wednesday in response to this report, saying it "has given rise to great concerns in Austria's Jewish and Muslim community. Leading politicians from Lower Austria have thus gone on record & made it clear that they will find a solution together with these communities – and allay all fears!"

Jewish and Muslim religious laws require animals be conscious when their throats are cut for the mean to be kosher or halal, respectively. Judaism imposes stricter limitations on how animals should be slaughtered to ensure a swift dispatching. Critics of the production of kosher and halal meat say it is cruel, though advocates of the practices argue they cause less suffering overall because they are designed to be as painless as possible and cannot be fully mechanized.

The Wiener Zeitung did not say whether the draft decree extends also to halal meat as well as kosher meat.

Waldhäusl, the animal welfare official from Lower Austria, is the state’s only cabinet minister from the populist Freedom Party, which was created by a former Nazi SS soldier in the 1950's and opposes immigration from Muslim countries.

The party has had many scandals involving anti-Semitism by its members and representatives, though its leaders say their party is not anti-Semitic and will not tolerate expressions of such sentiments in its ranks.

Klaus Schneeberger, the regional leader of the ruling Austrian People’s Party of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, told the ORF broadcaster that the plan will not be implemented. “Of course, nobody will have to register to buy kosher meat. There will be no such thing,” he said.

The Austrian People’s Party last year entered a coalition agreement with the Freedom Party following a federal election.

In Lower Austria, governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner is from the Austrian People’s Party, along with seven out of the nine cabinet ministers of that state.

“In Lower Austria we are not here to provide meat to the Viennese,” Waldhäusl told the daily about his state, which contains vast farmlands and encircles the far smaller state of Vienna, where the vast majority of Austria’s 8,000-odd Jews live.

Haaretz contributed to this report.

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