How the SDP still discriminates against Jews and Muslims

In the beginning

Back in the days when I was an SDP member, there was the SDP’s 2019 Policy Platform. Much of which I thought was great, and some of which I wasn’t totally sold on, but could live with. I guess this is normal for most members of most political parties.

But then, right at the end, in the “Animal Welfare” section, was one that really jarred: a pledge to ban non-stun slaughter, apparently in response to a request from the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA.

What this meant is that an SDP government would ban kosher (and some types of halal) slaughter in the UK. And it jarred because I’m Jewish.

A ban on kosher slaughter would force observant Jews in the UK to do one of three things: (i) go vegetarian; (ii) import expensive kosher meat from overseas (which could be particularly expensive if tariffs were imposed post-Brexit); or, (iii) emigrate! Therefore, even if implemented with well-meaning motives (concern for animal welfare), it would nonetheless have an antisemitic effect, in that it would make Jewish life in Britain… that much harder. A ban on kosher slaughter would quite literally criminalise an important aspect of Judaism, thus signalling to observant Jews, in the strongest possible way, that they were not really welcome. I think you would agree that the SDP did not find itself in good company on this one.

What happened next?

I wrote a number of blog posts setting out why, and how, I thought the policy needed to be changed. This included a post critiquing the evidence base provided by the BVA and RSPCA, upon which the policy was said to be based.

All this was with a view to proposing a motion to change the policy at the party AGM in September. As it happened, I left before then, as I became increasingly disillusioned with the way the party was going. Policy was changed nonetheless, as narrated here.

The revised policy is available here:

So why are you still pissed off?

The party no longer calls for an absolute ban on kosher/halal slaughter, which is clearly a step in the right direction. So why am I still kvetching?

The first thing to note is that three out of nine Animal Welfare policy pledges relate to the final few moments of a comparatively small number of animals slaughtered by Jews and Muslims. This is an obvious imbalance, and reminded me of a certain other political party’s obsessive foreign policy focus on the state of Israel! What of the content of the policies themselves? I’ll break this down bit by bit.

The quantity of meat slaughtered under the Religious Exemption shall not exceed UK domestic demand.

Export of meat killed by non-slaughter methods is to be banned.

By “Religious Exemption”, what is meant is this piece of legislation, which allows Jews (and Muslims) to slaughter animals without pre-stunning them in accordance with the rules about kosher/halal. The SDP policy would allow only so much kosher slaughter as is necessary to fulfil the demands of the UK Jewish community. However, British Jews would no longer be able to export kosher meat to Israel (which is largely non-arable and therefore has to import a lot of its meat), or to places like Switzerland, Denmark or the Belgian province of Wallonia, where kosher slaughter has been banned, often for reasons which have little to do with animal welfare. No-one else is banned from exporting meat – whether that be the meat of pigs which have been slaughtered after being stunned with gas (which causes pain), or of poultry (which is slaughtered using methods which inflict pain) – only Jews (and Muslims). This is surely the very essence of discrimination!

(It’s also electoral folly. Imagine the conversation on the doorstep. “Mr Cohen, you know your meat production business? Under an SDP government, you’d no longer be able to sell kosher meat to customers overseas.” “Oh, ok. Lots of my customers are in Israel, Denmark and Switzerland. What are your other policies?”)

The Import of non-stun slaughter meat will also be banned unless the country of origin has equivalent animal welfare standards to the UK.

This is objectionable because it only applies to meat produced by Jews and Muslims, but not to meat produced by anyone else. Imagine two cows, both reared in countries with animal welfare standards below the UK’s. Cow A has an existence of 5/10 relative to the UK; cow B has an existence of 9/10. Cow A is stunned before being slaughtered but cow B, which is slaughtered by kosher methods, is not. The SDP’s policy would allow the import of the meat of Cow A, but not of the meat of Cow B. Everyone else can import meat from wherever they want; but observant Jews (and Muslims) cannot. This, surely, is the essence of discrimination. If the SDP is going to say that meat can only be imported from countries with equivalent standards, then that needs to apply to *all* meat products, not just those produced by Jews and Muslims.

All meat product sold in the UK shall include clear labelling regarding the method of slaughter. Labelling to be clear if the meat is Halal or Kosher.

This is fine, and would have sufficed on its own! Labelling of meat products is ok so long as it applies to *all* meat products, not just those produced by Jews and Muslims. I like the labelling categories suggested by Professor Joe Regenstein of Cornell University: 1. By smashing the animal over the head to crack its skull. 2. By smashing through the skull 3. By electrocuting the animal 4. By using a gas chamber 5. Traditionally hand-slaughtered with respect for the animal. At the end of the day, there is no nice way of killing an animal. 

So what does the SDP still need to do?

Thanks for asking. All the policy needs to say is that *all* meat products need to be clearly labelled as to the means of slaughter, thus enabling the consumer to make an informed choice. That way, those who need to buy non-stunned meat for religious reasons can do so; those who do not wish to, get to vote with their wallets. What could be fairer than that? Drop the bit about Jews and Muslims not being able to export meat; and either drop, or change, the policy that allows everyone else to import meat from wherever they want, but not Jews or Muslims. Only when these changes happen, will I start to think about rejoining the SDP.

PS Some will say that, as I have now left the party, I have no right to shout from the sidelines: I should have stayed in the party and argued my case. This misses the point: I shouldn’t have had to argue my case in the first place. A communitarian party should have been aware of the implications a ban on non-stun slaughter would have on Jews and Muslims, and should have steered well away. And, once the implications of a ban were flagged up, it should not have been left to the small number of Jews and Muslims in the party (plus a handful of welcome, predominantly Christian, allies) to overturn it. Putting it simply: if the party leadership wanted Jews and Muslims to see the SDP as a political home, the party leadership should have taken the initiative in getting the policy changed. It is to be hoped that they will yet do so.

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2 Responses to How the SDP still discriminates against Jews and Muslims

  1. Billo says:

    Hi James,

    An informative and well articulated piece that deserves a reply. (and should be read by the great & the good in the SDP as well).

    First off, while I am still a member of the SDP I am quite peripheral. I paid my fiver for renewal in November but other than exploring some areas on my blog and twitter that I think the SDP should be addressing (mainly local government) I am not active.

    I regard the party as a nice idea. But I am hardly a committed activist. So I cannot and do not speak for the party. Just myself.

    Even so, I suppose all party members should take responsibility for party policy.

    Further more I cannot really claim I didn’t know about the non-stun policy, it’s just I skipped over it as one of the tedious bit of fluff that get added by any party with a broad membership base. It didn’t affect me. So I ignored it without further consideration. For that I apologize.

    But frankly, that is exactly what it is – fluff. It is well meaning but regrettably ill-thought out.
    It perhaps is a good example of how careful we all need to be about (as you say) the law of unintended consequences.

    The SDP has had one go at fixing it it but clearly they have not actually checked it through with those affected. So it ends up as a scatter gun solution where some of the fixes work and some don’t.

    The bullet points at the bottom of you “law of unintended consequences” blog post would be a good place to start in fixing this issue but obviously need expanding on. Maybe a good way forward would for the SDP to actually get input from religious bodies rather than second guessing them.

    The SDP (as I understand it) is people and community centric. If it wants to maintain that ideal it needs to review this policy.

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