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December 21, 2021 6:38 pm
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Dismay as EU Civil Servant’s Conviction for Antisemitic Incitement During Frenzied Assault Is Quashed by Belgian Court

avatar by Ben Cohen

European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The head of the main organization opposing antisemitism in Belgium has expressed dismay at the decision of the Brussels Court of Appeal to acquit a European Union civil servant who carried out an antisemitic assault in 2015 of incitement to hatred.

Writing in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, Joël Rubinfeld — president of the Belgian League Against Antisemitism — argued that the decision to acquit Maltese citizen Stefan Grech, 51, of a 2018 conviction for incitement while upholding his conviction for assault had “emptied” the country’s anti-racism legislation “of all significance.”

The assault carried out by Grech took place in a Brussels cafe on July 16, 2015, where he hosted a party to celebrate his 10th anniversary as an employee of the European Commission. After drinking heavily throughout the evening, Grech, who had been clutching a metal plaque commemorating the fascist leader Benito Mussolini, embarked on a tirade in praise of the late Italian dictator.

Confronted by an Italian woman who was dining at the same restaurant, Grech physically attacked her when she pointed out to him that Mussolini had murdered thousands of Jews. Witnesses said that when she told Grech that she “could be Jewish,” he struck her across the head with the metal plaque and attempted to strangle her. Throughout the assault, he yelled antisemitic epithets, including “dirty Jew” and “You should have all been killed.”

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Grech later tried to dismiss the assault as a drunken misunderstanding, claiming that he had merely given his victim “a friendly tap” with the plaque. He added that he had argued back with her, “saying that what the Jews were doing to Palestinians was similar to what Hitler had done to the Jews.”

Grech was convicted by a Belgian court on Oct. 2, 2018 of incitement to hate or violence toward people of Jewish faith, violation of anti-racism laws, and assault aggravated by racial hatred. He was handed a three year suspended prison sentence, during which time he was ordered to attend tolerance training as well as undergo therapy for his alcohol addiction.

On Dec. 10, the Brussels Court of Appeal upheld Grech’s assault conviction but acquitted him of the incitement charge, arguing that the antisemitic invective he had hurled at his victim could be seen as “hateful and hostile towards a person because of their religious conviction,” but did not constitute “encouragement, exhortation or instigation of anyone to anything.”

In response, Rubinfeld expressed astonishment in his piece for Le Soir that the words used by Grech  — “Dirty Jew! You Jews should all have been killed!” — were not incitement to hatred.

The court’s decision would enable Belgians “to say publicly to someone ‘dirty Jew’ and to regret that the Jews were not ‘all’ exterminated, without this constituting an infringement of criminal law,” Rubinfeld wrote. “And this on the completely incomprehensible grounds that by regretting that the Jews were not all exterminated, one would not incite hatred against the Jews.”

Rubinfeld said that the court decision meant that Belgian laws against racism “would be emptied of all significance.”

“Only direct and explicit incitement to exterminate the Jews (or any other minority) would still be prohibited: ‘you must kill the Jews,'” he observed. “Anything less explicit, such as ‘Jews don’t deserve to live,’ ‘Hitler should have finished the job,’ would be permitted by law because there would be no inducement.”

Rubinfeld ended with an impassioned plea to Belgian justice from his standpoint as a Jewish citizen of the country.

“Are you still fair? I would like to continue to believe in you,” he wrote. “I would like you to be by my side against hate. Stop being indifferent. Pull yourself together. See hatred for what it is, pursue it, and condemn it.”

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