Examining Belgian Antisemitism
Though antisemitism in Belgium is widespread and has many facets, it gets little international attention. Two current issues have temporarily changed this, at least somewhat. One is the legal process that started in January in Brussels against Mehdi Nemmouche, who is 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.
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 later in 2019. This prohibition also hurts Muslims, who require halal meat that comes from animals that have been slaughtered without stunning.
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. 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.
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). On the video, 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.
When the video finally became public, Toujgani offered his apologies.
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 primarily 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.
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 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.
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 him of Nazi ideology.
Political science 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.”
Even schoolbooks carry anti-Israeli political bias. A Dutch-language sixth-grade textbook instructed students to read sentences with the correct intonation. One of these was: “When a Palestinian child in Jerusalem saw a Jewish soldier arriving, he shrank in fear.” Sometimes, textbooks contain antisemitic ideas. An 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.
Joel Rubinfeld, who founded and is the president of the LBCA, must be commended for fighting this 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.” He added that the reality is that “they, and not the antisemitic aggressors, have to leave the schools.”
A number of studies on antisemitism among schoolchildren 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 percent of Muslim pupils had antisemitic attitudes. Among other pupils, it was only 10 percent.
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. But Elchardus mentioned that it took legal experts a month to conclude that this was a false accusation.
The above array of misdemeanors is only a small selection of antisemitism and anti-Israelism occurring in Belgium. And this is a serious, serious problem.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank.