EXCLUSIVE – Aussie Rabbi stands up for Muslims and religious freedom

SHAFAQNA – As Australia has witnessed a rise in Islamophobia and calls from various groups and political parties in the country, one rabbi has stepped up on behalf of the Muslim community, slamming religiously orientated hatred and xenophobia as “the barbaric manifestation of a global social disease.”

Amid heated campaigns against halal certification in Australia, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick has voiced objection to the anti–halal campaign which is pioneered by the group Reclaim Australia and supported by some members of Parliament.

“The current attack we are hearing against halal certification in Australia is wrong, immoral and unwarranted,” the senior cleric told Shafaqna in exclusive comments.

He added that he stood ready to offer help and assistance to the Muslim community in its time of need. “We should all have the right to leave our faith freely and as a Jew I relate to Muslims in that they have the right to enjoy the same freedom and peace we do. Why should they be treated any differently? Why should we give in to fear and become ourselves radicals?”

“It is the product of prejudice and ignorance. If it was against kosher certification it would be labeled anti-Semitic. If anyone believes anyone is funding terrorism and breaking Australian law, let them go to the police with evidence and the police will investigate it,” he added.

“All this has absolutely nothing to do with the legitimate rights of the Islamic community to practice their religion in Australia through the certification of food as being halal, and has absolutely nothing to do with the rights of Australian manufacturers to seek halal certification for the foodstuffs in order to sell them to Muslims,” Rabbi Gutnick told reporters in comments to the press.

The senior cleric’s statement was made while marking Yom Ha’Shoah, the day Jews commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. He wrote that he was inspired to speak out by those who risked their lives to protect Jews from Nazi persecution.

A controversial liberal backbencher, Andrew Laming, had earlier claimed ministerial support for a plan to reform halal labeling laws – a claim immediately denied by the minister purportedly responsible.

Laming says halal certifiers are religious profiteers — an argument taken up by many anti-halal campaigners. He has been working on a plan to give Australian businesses the power to self-certify their goods as halal and claimed to have “secured ministerial support for his plan”.

But the claim was immediately denied by the office of Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash, who oversees food labeling. Her spokesman said the plan had never received approval from her office.

Laming’s spokeswoman further alleged that “Minister Nash is not the minister that Andrew had approached,” but did not elaborate.

Rabbi Gutnick, who is a senior rabbi at the Kashrut Authority of Australia and New Zealand, had said the anti-halal campaign was an attack on Australians’ religious rights.

Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population. Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity.

The concept of halal — meaning permissible in Arabic — has traditionally been applied to food. Muslims do not eat pork and consider pigs and their meat filthy and unhealthy to eat.

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