In France’s elections, a meaty issue unites Jews and Muslims

PARIS – While making lunch and talking politics, Sarah Gutmann has an ugly feeling – of incoming French President Marine Le Pen invading privacy in her home and mingling with her Jewish faith and the plates of chicken and kosher sausages that she is . roasts for her husband and their eldest son.

This is because the far-right candidate wants to ban ritual slaughter if she is elected next Sunday. And it can directly affect how Gutmann feeds his family and exercises his religious freedom. She and her husband, Benjamin, say they would have to think about leaving France if a right-wing extremist government interfered in the kosher diet of observant Jews. Their fear is that under Le Pen, targeting ritually slaughtered meat could only be the start of steps to make French Jews and Muslims feel unwelcome.

“Attacking the way we eat affects our privacy, and it’s very serious,” Gutmann said as she worked in the kitchen of their Paris home.

“The intention is to target minority populations that bother her and send a message to voters who are against these minorities: ‘Vote for me, because I will attack them and maybe in time make them go’.”

Muslim shopper Hayat Ettabet said her family could be forced to slaughter illegally at home to stay within their religious rules and soft animals out “in the bathroom, back to the way it was.”

Le Pen says all animals must be anesthetized before slaughter, and presents the issue as a matter of animal welfare. It is unacceptable for attentive Jews and Muslims who believe that anesthesia causes unnecessary animal suffering and that their ritual slaughters for kosher and halal meat are more humane.

“We have never been so close to having an extreme-right regime,” Gutmann said. “The alarm bell rings.”

Le Pen’s France would be more internally focused, with far fewer immigrants and fewer rights for those already here, less tolerance of non-Christian traditions and less closely tied to the EU and the outside world.

Macron promises pretty much the opposite as he seeks another five-year term. Macron reset Le Pen’s proposal to end the slaughter without stunning to underscore their political differences. He said he did not want “a France that prevents Muslims or Jews from eating, as their religion prescribes.”

Le Pen says she does not want to either. But troubled Jews and Muslims have a hard time believing in her. Le Pen is not opposed to other practices considered cruel by animal welfare activists, such as bullfighting or – in particular – hunting, a tradition deeply rooted in the French countryside, where she trawls for votes. So her focus on kosher and halal meat smells of hypocrisy for Jews and Muslims who see an attack disguised as animal welfare.

Le Pen says the meat could be imported instead. But it also makes no sense to critics, for it seems contrary to Le Pen’s general France-first-rule that the country must produce more things itself and import less.

Her camp also has flip-flops. Jordan Bardella, Le Pen’s No. 2, who heads their National Rally party while running for president, said in March that they want a direct ban on kosher and halal meat, both imported and from domestic slaughtered animals. .

Jewish leaders responded in a statement that the “disgusting” proposal would force a large number of Jews and Muslims to leave.

But Le Pen and Macron are now both modulating their positions on issues important to voters who did not support them in round one of the election, seeking to gather the votes they need to win round two. Macron, most notably, has softened his plan to raise the retirement age to 65. Le Pen is trying to appear more inclusive.

“I’m not going to get rid of halal and kosher butcher shops at all,” she said this week. She said meat from animals that have been knocked out electrically may prove to be an acceptable halal alternative for some Muslims. But if not, “importing this meat would of course be allowed.”

“What we really want is to stop this animal suffering, very intense, it’s the consequence of slaughter without anesthesia,” Le Pen said.

Slovenia, Denmark and Sweden, as well as non-EU members, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, have done away with religious exceptions, which means that kosher and halal meat must be imported. The same is true of the regions of Flanders and Wallonia in Belgium. The bans being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights by Yohan Benizri, Vice-President of the European Jewish Congress.

He says a ban on religious slaughter makes Jews feel “we are not part of European culture” and “portrays us as a kind of savage.”

Because France exports kosher meat, a ban on its production will “have a devastating effect” on Jewish communities elsewhere, he said.

“It will also be a devastating signal because – again – we would be seen as unwelcome in the EU,” Benizri said.

When her son finished lunch, Sarah Gutmann said the most worrying aspect of a Le Pen-pushed law on the issue would be if it were met with general indifference.

“Then I really want to be very, very scared,” she said. “If I see an unfair law go through and no one responds, then we will say to ourselves that we are really in danger.”

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Associated Press journalists Nicolas Garriga in Paris and Elaine Ganley in Vernon, France, contributed.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of France’s presidential election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022

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