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A Giraffe Dies in Denmark

Marius the giraffe [1]

Marius the giraffe

3,054 words

In February of 2014 a two-year old giraffe was euthanized at the Copenhagen Zoo. Worldwide media attention and an online petition signed by twenty-seven thousand friends of animals had failed to save him.

Since the Copenhagen Zoo had raised Marius, the petition argued, it had a moral responsibility to find him a home. The zoo ignored the plea and Marius was killed. His corpse was fed to the zoo’s lions.

Marius was not a defective giraffe. He was healthy, but sadly for him his genes were, in the eyes of Copenhagen’s zookeepers, too much like the genes of other giraffes. He was therefore not genetically useful for a breeding program designed, as the zoo put it, “to safeguard for future generations a genetically diverse, healthy population of animals against their extinction.” The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, reflecting the opinion of a number of authoritative voices, supported the Copenhagen Zoo in its decision to euthanize Marius, which was effected by a bolt-gun. “If an animal’s genes are well represented in a population,” the zoo’s scientific director explained, “further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted.”

The campaign to save Marius and the outcry over the zoo’s decision to kill him are both signs of the times. Concern for the welfare of animals has long been a feature of Western societies. Modern landmarks in the anglosphere include the founding of Britain’s RSPCA in 1824, the passage of Britain’s Cruelty to Animals Act in 1876, and the founding in the United States seven years later of the American Anti-Vivisection Society. Other important moments in the history of Western empathy for animals occurred much earlier, some taking us far back into antiquity.

In the twentieth century the movement included intellectuals on both Left and Right, ranging from the Jewish philosopher Peter Singer to the Far Right’s own Savitri Devi, whose Impeachment of Man argued for positive kindness to animals as part of the life-centered religion she advocated. Hitler himself could be considered an animal-rights supporter, as Leon Degrelle recounted: “He could not bear to eat meat, because it meant the death of a living creature. He refused to have so much as a rabbit or a trout sacrificed to provide his food.” In his concern for the welfare of animals Hitler shared the opinions of many Westerners, from Pythagoras through Rousseau and Schopenhauer down to Brigitte Bardot and Pamela Anderson. The list is long and it is growing. Whether we should be happy about that or not is a separate issue.

A hundred years ago few in the West would have been troubled by a zoo’s decision to kill a giraffe in the cause of giraffe preservation. Today many of us are. The slogan “meat is murder” may sound foolish to some, a sign of growing enlightenment to others; but it is unmistakably the result, for good or ill, of a socio-political evolution of some duration, as was the outcry over the death of Marius the giraffe.

So, too, was the decision of the Danish government, also in 2014, to prohibit kosher and halal slaughter. Denmark’s agriculture minister made it clear that, despite protests of religious Jews and Muslims in Denmark, “animal rights come before religion.” In non-Semitic slaughterhouses livestock are stunned before they are killed, while in kosher and halal slaughterhouses animals must bleed to death after their throats have been cut. Since kosher and halal slaughter are so obviously less humane than European methods of slaughter, both will predictably be banned in a nation that has been significantly influenced by the growing empathy for animals.

It is even more predictable if the culture of the nation in question is, like Denmark’s, secular in character. Defense of Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughtering livestock by reference to old religious traditions from the Middle East will have little effect on a secular population and a secular government that believe in the moral need to spare animals unnecessary pain. If kosher slaughter causes more pain to animals than normal Western methods of slaughter, then kosher slaughter must go, regardless of how passionately Jews and Muslims believe they possess an inalienable religious right to ensure that slaughtered livestock bleed to death.

I have not mentioned either anti-Semitism or the Holocaust in discussing the banning of kosher slaughter and the death of Marius the giraffe. The principle of parsimony suggests that no extraneous motives need to be adduced to explain the banning of kosher slaughter in Denmark and elsewhere, and it would be difficult to glimpse any possible relevance of the Jewish Holocaust to the death of a giraffe in Copenhagen. Jews, however, have their own distinctive and curious perspective on these sorts of issues.

In the ban an Israeli cabinet minister saw sinister forces at work: “European anti-Semitism is showing its true colors across Europe, and is even intensifying in the government institutions.” A neoconservative academic went much further. In presenting his opposition to Denmark’s “racist law banning kosher butchers,” Michael Widlanski, writing in the respectable Jerusalem [2] Post [2], claimed to see baleful shades of nazi Germany in the death of Marius:

Sounding a bit like Nazis, Danish Zoo authorities said they had to kill the giraffe for the sake of racial purity — to protect the genetic lines of their giraffes. They added that the zoo needed Lebensraum — living room — space for other, purer giraffes.

Widlanski’s fanciful summary of what he calls “the Danish Giraffe Murder” is based on the same facts I presented earlier, but he, as a passionate Jew, draws a much different conclusion. His is a vision of Danish nazis at the Copenhagen Zoo executing, in the name of giraffe racial purity, a genetically impure giraffe, just as seventy years ago Germans executed Jews allegedly for the purpose of ridding Europe of their non-Aryan impurities.

There is a large factual problem in Widlanski’s vision, even if we ignore its obvious absurdity. Marius was killed because he was too much like other giraffes, not because he was an endangered minority among his fellow giraffes in European zoos. For Widlanski’s nazi-era reference to function coherently, you would have to calculate the likelihood that a European anti-Semite — say, Hitler — would execute a healthy giraffe in a local zoo, because he felt the giraffe was too Aryan, and then graciously move a living Jewish giraffe into the dead Aryan giraffe’s Lebensraum. It is unlikely that Hitler would have done that, leaving aside his animal-rights sympathies; but objecting to the incoherence and striking stupidity of Widlanski’s account would mean taking Widlanski seriously, as though he actually has an opinion on this subject worth considering.

Like the Israeli cabinet minister, Widlanski believes that Denmark’s ban on kosher slaughter is a sure sign of racial hatred and an act of anti-Semitic persecution, not a predictable result of the West’s growing empathy for animals. He believes that non-Jews in their own countries have no moral right to prohibit a specific method of killing animals, because some Jews happen to practice that method of killing animals. The prohibition of kosher slaughter is therefore unmistakably “racist,” with all the semantic weight of opprobrium that adjective carries.

In the real world opposition to kosher slaughter says little or nothing in itself about a person’s political orientation or his attitude toward Jews. Brigitte Bardot and Pamela Anderson, we can reliably guess, oppose kosher slaughter because they believe in animal rights, not because they dislike Jews. NS Germany banned kosher slaughter in 1933, but Norway had banned it three years earlier.

As a rule, however, Jews have great difficulty recognizing that Gentiles can have any legitimate convictions at all if they conflict with some cause close to their hearts, in this case kosher slaughter. We don’t reason. We just ventilate our hatreds, and we are at our most dangerous when we can layer over our raw hatreds with some semblance of rational argument, which leaves Jews with the task of digging up the hatreds beneath.

“Persecuting Jews is always kosher,” Widlanski writes, “and the Jews will sooner or later leave Europe rather suffer the fate of that Danish giraffe who was found to be genetically inferior.” A nation that could allow Marius to be euthanized, instead of discovering “a less-than-final solution for the problem of a genetically inferior giraffe,” cannot simultaneously profess belief in animal rights. Danes must therefore be anti-Semites, using animal-rights and bogus moral objections to kosher slaughter as excuses to get at Jews. A perceptive Jew, who knows race hatred and persecution when he sees them, will remember “just how many non-Jewish Europeans came to the rescue of defenseless Jews during the past century, especially during the Holocaust.” Not many, is the expected answer.

Widlanski’s argument, to use the term loosely, runs as follows: Germans killed Jews seventy years ago and many Europeans were insufficiently dedicated to rescuing Jews from their German enemies; therefore when Danes prohibit a Jewish cultural practice like kosher slaughter, it must mean that they hate Jews, not that they hope to reduce the suffering of animals. Thus the death of Marius the giraffe becomes important proof. Most Jews, especially those with a strong Holocaust consciousness, will regard this as an impressive chain of evidence assembled by a keen Sherlockian intellect. We can, charitably, call it moron-level logic.

Again, however, Widlanski’s fantasy and his moron-level logic meet factual difficulties.

The Holocaust’s Judeocentric reinterpretation of the Second World War privileges Jewish lives over other lives. The Axis campaign to defend Europe from Marxism and the Allied campaign to defend and promote democracy — causes that, rightly or not, many of the men who fought the war believed in — have gradually over the decades been displaced in favor of the Jewish Holocaust and its special concerns. In looking at this old war that claimed as many as sixty million lives, you judge your country not by how heroically her soldiers fought the war or how stoically her civilian population endured privation and sometimes bombing or occupation, but by how well your country treated Jews and how energetically it rescued them.

If we envision this Judeocentric reinterpretation of the war as an athletic competition, a track event at the Olympics, Germans came in dead last in this race to rescue Jews, with Poles and Hungarians a few yards ahead. The French and the Lithuanians were feeble competitors; Americans also had a slow day on the track. But fatally for Widlanski’s fantasy the Danes performed well in the race and may have placed first. They have earned their medal and should be entitled to boast, if we accept the premise of this strange competition. Leni Yahil, the most openly Zionist of the major Holocaust historians, speaks very highly of Danes: “the humane character of this small Scandinavian nation, many of whose citizens took their lives into their own hands to save Jews, shone over the inhumanity of mass extermination . . .”

Widlanski knows that Hungary and Denmark are different countries, and he may be able to locate them on a map. Yet their differing wartime histories are irrelevant in his eyes. He was angry to learn that Denmark had prohibited kosher slaughter, a prohibition that he considers “racist” because as a Jew it offends him, and he looked about to find some reason to condemn the Danes. He found Marius. The optics of the giraffe’s death were unflattering, regardless of whether we accept the zoo’s explanation or not, so Widlanski had a weapon, something with which he could attack his enemy.

Virginia Morell, writing on the National Geographic website, expressed well the feelings of those who signed the petition: “And so our hearts were broken when we saw the keepers at the Copenhagen Zoo break their trust with Marius. He should never have died so young and at the hands of his caretakers, the very ones who should have done all they could to protect him.” I agree, though not with the same emotion; I might have signed the petition if I had known about it. If we take Widlanski’s words as indicators of his beliefs, he would agree too. His words, however, tell us nothing. His professed concerns for animal welfare are instrumental. He wants to use the giraffe Marius as a weapon against an enemy, a European population that has offended him. He deploys his Holocaust weapon for the same reason, indifferent to the fact that Danes are morally among the least eligible targets of the weapon. We know that Virginia Morell is telling us what she believes, whether we agree with her or not. We cannot say the same about an activist Jew who asserts similar sentiments. There is, of course, an obvious lesson here.

Michael Widlanski is not, outwardly at least, an irrational Kahanist. He is not stupid either, though his stated opinions about giraffes and kosher slaughter might suggest otherwise. He is a New York Jew, a university professor with multiple post-graduate degrees, who has taken up residence in his homeland, Israel. He served in the IDF and wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject of Palestinian broadcast media. He teaches at Bar-Ilan University and formerly taught Middle Eastern politics at Hebrew University. He is a regular contributor to David Horowitz’ FrontPage website and has spoken at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where he explained “why America and the Jewish people remain prime targets of terrorists.”

He sometimes returns to the land of his birth, where he laments Jewish intermarriage with non-Jews, the scarcity of good kosher food in American supermarkets, and the failure of too many Jewish parents to segregate their children in Jewish day schools, thereby depriving them of the opportunity to learn Hebrew. An ungenerous observer could also accuse him of harboring some small sense of racial superiority. “Israel is,” he writes, “a nature preserve for Earth’s most persecuted and perhaps most productive minority,” an exclusivist view of the Jewish state that fails to include the non-Jewish fauna who also reside there and who once called this Jewish nature preserve their home. At The New York Times, where he was employed during the era of Abe Rosenthal and Arthur Gelb, Widlanski was notably Jewish among an already notably Jewish group of journalists, which was in itself a substantial accomplishment: “I’m a religious Jew — I try to be a religious Jew — and everybody in The New York Times who would see me from a distance knew that this was the only guy walking around the newspaper with a yarmulke on his head.”

All of this suggests a strong Jewish ethnocentrism, so strong an ethnocentrism that Professor Widlanski could seriously argue that because Danes prohibited kosher slaughter on humanitarian grounds, they are likely to exterminate Jews in the future and that Jews should, therefore, flee Europe before they suffer the fate of Marius the giraffe, murdered out of Europe’s congenital hatred for the genetically impure. He did not and probably could not see how foolish he would appear to anyone who does not share his remarkable ethnocentric fixations.

Another improbable element in Widlanski’s case against nazi Denmark is the Scandinavian tradition of gun ownership. He largely manufactures this tradition, and then contrasts it to the Jewish tradition of preferring books and tablet computers over guns and hunting. He means to suggest that gun-toting Danes cannot convincingly claim empathy for animals, since they spend so much of their leisure time shooting wildlife and admiring the animal heads they mount on their walls as trophies.

It is not the sort of argument Widlanski would make when promoting, as he often does, support for Israel among American conservatives, most of whom correctly regard second-amendment rights as evidence of rugged independence, not as signs of cruelty and bookless backwoods ignorance. Gun-crazed Scandinavian hunters and nazi zookeepers in Copenhagen may appear to us as merely ad hoc fantasies constructed for the purpose of attacking enemies, but there is at least some chance that the inventor of these fantasies actually believes in his inventions. Such is the strength of an activist Jew’s ethnocentrism, especially when some apparent misbehavior on our part has aroused his anger.

Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat. It is, judging by online reviews, the sort of book that neoconservatives and certain kind of gullible Republican find powerfully impressive. The book even has its own website, which boasts that “Dr. Widlanski was known as the ‘hit man’ for Israeli negotiators at the 1991-92 talks in Madrid and Washington,” suggesting that he worked hard to ensure that no peace broke out as a result of the Madrid Peace Conference. Conservative commentator Cal Thomas reports that “Widlanski’s main point is that political correctness has stifled the West’s ability to understand and fight terror,” which is true yet close to self-evident.

In his book and in many of his online articles Widlanski is offering advice to the West. He even speaks of “we in the West,” although he has in fact removed himself from the West in order to live among other Semites in the Middle East. Yet the “West” on whose behalf Widlanski is framing his arguments and collecting his evidence is not really the place you read about in history books. Cal Thomas is, we can be sure, concerned about the threat of Muslim terror to the West in general and to the United States in particular. Conservatives like Thomas, being owners of maps, would include Denmark, we can also be sure, in their West, along with even the least fleet-footed competitors in the race to rescue Jews seventy years ago.

It is normally assumed that a defender of Western civilization has at least some affection for the various nations that comprise it geographically. The Slovenians may not be your favorite European nationality, but you know that Slovenia is part of our West and you wish her well. The “West” of neoconservatives like Widlanski is a different and a much smaller location. It consists essentially of Israel, Diaspora Jews, and those American conservatives amenable to sending soldiers off to fight and die in destructive Mideast wars. The enemies of this West are the enemies of Jews and of Israel. Anti-Western enemies can also include, given Widlanski’s highly ethnocentric world-view, one of the most philo-Semitic nations on the planet, if for some reason he sees or claims to see some improbable harbinger of genocide within its domestic politics.