Animal activist Tash Peterson has been attacked by several prominent members of the Jewish community for referring to the slaughter of billions of animals each year (trillions, if we estimate the number of sea animals killed) as an “animal Holocaust”.

She has been scolded for supposedly “comparing Jews to pigs”. As a Jew who has spent many years studying the Sho’ah (Holocaust), I respectfully disagree. She’s not comparing the victims but the perpetrators – those who torture and slaughter.

My father served almost seven years in the British army from 1939 to 1946, spending the final year in Germany as a member of the occupying Allied forces. After he was demobbed, he spent several weeks trying in vain to find relatives who had disappeared without a trace during the Nazi occupation of Belgium.

There are few Jews whose families were not affected by the murder of relatives during that dark period, which is one reason why the ranks of the animal justice movements are full of us. We understand that, as Nobel prize-winning Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer (who lost most of his family in the Holocaust) wrote, “In relation to animals, all people are Nazis; for them, it is an eternal Treblinka”.

Permitting the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life is a philosophical argument written in 1920 by two German professors, Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, and subsequently embraced by the Nazis. It rejects the concept of the sanctity of life, arguing that some people, including “incurable idiots”, should be killed to free up resources for the “master race”.

Under the Nazis, this notion escalated into the extermination of millions of people who were considered inferior, including at least 6 million Jews during the Sho’ah.

The Jews, Slavs, Roma and other groups targeted for extermination were composed of living, feeling individuals who only wanted to live their lives in peace.

In that way, they were just the same as the sentient beings who, while they’re still little more than infants, are confined; tormented with vile practices like branding, castration without anaesthetics and various forms of mutilation and finally brutally slaughtered. Their flesh and skins are then sold for profit, as were the gold teeth and hair of the victims of the Sho’ah.

Such outrages stain our society and culture with the blood and suffering of the vulnerable. The mindset that pronounces some animals unworthy of life is the same mindset that caused the Holocaust. The conveyor belts in Chicago’s stockyards taught the Nazis how to “process bodies”.

The mentality that allows us to separate ourselves from others is the mentality that has historically allowed us to witness suffering without intervening, using justifications such as “they’re just Jews” or “they’re just women” or “they’re just animals”. The mentality stays the same – only the victims change.

“Sho’ah” is Hebrew for “catastrophe”, but the English word “holocaust” means “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”.

Some 80 billion land animals are slaughtered every year for human consumption – that’s 9 million violent deaths inflicted every hour of every day. There are no counts kept of fish and other sea animals killed, but it is far more than that, and every one of them dies in agony, mostly by suffocation. If that doesn’t qualify as “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”, nothing does.

We must stop picking and choosing who is worthy of life and worthy of sympathy and compassion – because every sentient being is worthy of all these things.

Regardless of who the victims are, we must oppose and help stop all cruelty and atrocities, because otherwise, they fester and flourish.

Singer warned that if we accept the idea that certain groups should be exempted from consideration and empathy, we are doomed to repeat the crimes of the past and continue those of the present: “As long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace”.

Desmond Bellamy is completing a PhD at the School of Culture and Communications at Melbourne University. He has been involved in animal justice causes for decades and is a member and staffer for PETA Australia (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

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By Rahul

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