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May 28, 2018 12:39 pm

Belgian Jews Live in ‘Permanent State of Siege,’ Says Head of Antisemitism Watchdog

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A Belgian soldier stands guard outside the Jewish museum in Brussels, where a plaque commemorates the victims of the 2014 terrorist attack. Photo: Reuters / Yves Herman.

Fear of antisemitic violence and the presence of armed police and soldiers outside Jewish institutions has left Belgian Jews living in a “permanent state of siege,” the head of Belgium’s main antisemitism watchdog disclosed during a wide-ranging TV interview this weekend.

“The presence of military on the street in front of Jewish sites is somewhat reassuring,” Joël Rubinfeld — president of the Belgian League Against Antisemitism — told the French-language broadcaster RTBF on Sunday. “But you can imagine what kind of world we live in. Today, you go to a Jewish school and you feel like you’re coming back to Fort Knox, which is really a kind of permanent state of siege.”

Islamists based in Belgium have carried out several attacks on Jewish targets in Europe during the last decade, among them a gun attack on the Brussels Jewish Museum in May 2014 in which four people were killed. Belgium’s 42,000 Jews are also subjected to antisemitic harassment by Muslim extremists. Rubinfeld said that over “the last two or three years,” his organization had dealt with a dozen cases of Jewish school students subjected to antisemitic bullying, as well as a broader trend of Jewish parents unwilling to risk sending their children to public schools.

“This is what they call a double punishment: on the one hand, they are victims of these antisemitic acts, of bullying, or even sometimes of physical violence, and on the other hand, it is they, and not the aggressors, who have to leave their school,” Rubinfeld said.

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The last fortnight, he added, had witnessed a “rush of antisemitic acts” inspired by Palestinian violence on the border between the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Israel.

Rubinfeld reflected that it had been difficult to convince Belgian politicians that the country has a serious problem with antisemitism. 

“Already in 2008-2009, I told them: ‘If you do not do it for my children, do it for your children,'” he said.

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