Dr.Gerstenfeld’s new article on: “THE BROAD ARRAY OF BELGIAN ANTISEMITISM” was originally published by Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) and republished here with the author’s consent.
THE BROAD ARRAY OF BELGIAN ANTISEMITISM
Though antisemitism in Belgium is widespread and has many facets it gets little international attention. Two current issues have temporarily changed this somewhat. One is the process which started in January in Brussels against Mehdi Nemmouche from France. He is accused of killing four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24, 2014. Nemmouche is a jihad veteran who fought in Syria.1
The other issue is the prohibition of unstunned ritual slaughter in the region of Flanders which became operational at the beginning of this year. Most Jews there, many orthodox, live in Antwerp. In the Wallony region the same prohibition will be enacted in 2019. This prohibition also hurts those Muslims who require Halal meat that comes from animals which have been slaughtered without stunning.2
These two issues are just the tip of Belgium’s antisemitic iceberg. The Chief Rabbi of Brussels, Albert Guigui, no longer wears a kippa in public.3 In 2001 he was attacked by five North African youngsters. They cursed him and spat in his face. One even kicked him in the face.4
It is likely that imam Mohammed Toujgani of the El Khalil mosque in Brussels will be the next president of the conference of Belgian imams. At the beginning of 2019, a 2009 Youtube video of Toujgani came into the possession of the Belgian League against Antisemitism (LBCA). He preached:
“Lord, master of worlds, fill with fear the hearts of the Zionist oppressors,” …“Lord, fill their hearts with fear. Lord, make the earth tremble beneath their feet. Lord, make the blood of the martyrs a weapon under the feet of the Zionists oppressors, and may this blood ignite a fire that burns them and start a wind that eviscerates them. […] O Lord, tear them down.”5
When the video finally became known ten years later, Toujgani offered his apologies.6
When former socialist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo attacked the way Belgium was governed he said, “It’s a Belgium of Antwerp diamond dealers that we have today.” Though the Jewish participation in the Antwerp diamond industry has greatly declined, its image is one of Jews. One might consider this expression a paraphrase of the classic European antisemitic usage of the name Rothschild, used to symbolize greedy capitalists.7
Di Rupo wrote on Twitter after the Charlie Hebdo murders and the murder of four Jews in a Paris supermarket: “I am Charlie. I am Jewish. I am Palestinian.” After Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in 2006, a press statement was issued by Di Rupo saying that Israel would use this as a pretext to start a war against Lebanon.
A number of police officers who had served under a Brussels police Commissioner complained about the latter’s alleged hate speech in recent years against gays, foreigners and Jews. Two policemen with Jewish roots were called to his office and were forced to listen to Nazi songs. He also denied the Holocaust.8
A university lecturer and senior executive of the major Belgian ACOD Trade Union – the General Center of Public Services — wrote that Israel poisons Palestinians and kills their children to use their organs.9
Andre Gantman, a former Jewish municipal councilor in Antwerp, says that when he spoke in 2009 at the University of Antwerp, a young Muslim dressed in white asked ‘Is there human blood in your veins?” He added that the man’s attempts to dehumanize him reminded me of Nazi ideology.10
Political scientist, Professor Joël Kotek, is the world’s leading expert on antisemitic cartoons. He teaches at the French speaking Free University in Brussels. Kotek states that “Anti-Zionism has become a civil religion in Belgium……Its bible could read that everything that happens in the Middle East is the fault of Israel.”11
Even school books in Belgium carry anti-Israeli political bias. A Dutch-language sixth-grade textbook instructed students to read the sentences with the correct intonation. One of these was: “When a Palestinian child in Jerusalem saw a Jewish soldier arriving, he shrank in fear.”12 Sometimes textbooks contain antisemitic ideas. The illustration in the 2016 geography textbook “Polaris GO!3” for Flemish-speaking high school students depicts a beefy Orthodox Jew lolling in an overflowing bathtub, while a Palestinian woman can barely fill her bucket.13
Joel Rubinfeld who founded and is the president of the LBCA must be commended for fighting the pervasive antisemitism. He mentioned that over the last three years his organization had “dealt with a dozen cases of Jewish school students at public schools subjected to antisemitic bullying.’ H eadded that the reality is that “they, and not the antisemitic aggressors, have to leave the schools.” 14
British filmmaker Ken Loach, received an honorary doctorate from the Dutch speaking Free University of Brussels. He supports the boycott of Israel and has likened Israel’s actions to those of Nazi Germany.15 A former socialist Europarliamentarian, Veronique de Keyser, once said that she would like to strangle the Israeli ambassador if he discussed the country’s security issue with her.16
A number of studies on antisemitism among schoolchildren in Europe were undertaken by Belgian sociologist, Mark Elchardus. He found that in Dutch-speaking schools in Brussels as well as in the Flemish towns of Antwerp and Gent, 50% of Muslim pupils had antisemitic attitudes. Among other pupils it was only 10%.
A Muslim organization complained about Elchardus’ study at the Center for Equal Chances and the Fight against Antisemitism. This complaint should have been rejected rapidly. Elchardus mentioned that it took legal experts a month to conclude that this was a false accusation.17
The above array of misdemeanors is a small selection of antisemitism and anti-Israelism occurring in Belgium. In the past the country’s leaders felt the need to apply universal jurisdiction as far as crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide were concerned. Any private citizen anywhere in the world could submit a complaint against anybody to Belgium courts who could then decide on criminal prosecution. The complaint did not require any connection to Belgium.
For a country with perhaps the most horrible colonial past in the world, this seems absurd. The situation was used by several survivors and family members of the victims of the murders of hundreds of Palestinians in the refugee camps in Lebanon Sabra and Shatilah in 1982. The complaint was not against any known member of the Lebanese Christian militias who committed the murders. Instead it targeted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and two Israeli generals.
The Belgian investigating judge decided that there was no basis to prosecute. Nevertheless, the Belgian court decided to prosecute. Thereafter under Belgium’s universal law a complaint was brought against President George Bush Sr., Secretary of State Colin Powell, and retired general Norman Schwarzkopf for their roles in the first Gulf War in Iraq in 1991. The U.S. told the Belgians that if the process went ahead, NATO’s headquarters would be moved away from Brussels. Thereupon the Belgian parliament changed the law and the Sharon process ended.18
4 Joel Rubinfeld “la Belgique” in Manfred Gerstenfeld and Shmuel Trigano (Ed), Les habit neufs de l’antisemitisme en Europe. (Ile de Noirmoutier: Editions Café Noir, 2004),. P.84
10 Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Andre Gantman, “Belgian Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism,” in Demonizing Israel and the Jews (New York: RVP Press, 2013), 189-192.
12 Walter Janssens and Eddy van Eeckhoven, Taalknikker 6 Werotaal, Leerboek Taal a (Brugge: die Keure, 1999), 94.
18 Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Irit Kohn, “The Suit Against Sharon in Belgium: A Case Analysis” in Manfred Gerstenfeld European-Israel Relations: Between Confusion and Change? (Jerusalem, JCPA, 2006) pgs. 211 – 218.