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Anti-Semitism in the European Union:
Belgium

(Updated December 2003)


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Within the Belgian population (10.3 million; 55% Flemish, 33% Walloon) Jews represent a minority of some 35,000, most of whom live in Antwerp and Brussels.

In recent years racism has been on the increase, both in terms of discrimination against immigrants in general and against Arabs in particular. The Eurobarometer 2000 compiled by the EUMC came to the conclusion that the attitudes towards ethnic and religious minorities in Belgium show a more negative set of views than the EU average. Although racially motivated attacks from extreme right-wing groups, resurgent since the 1990s, are in the first instance directed against foreigners, running parallel to this is a strong increase in anti-Semitic tendencies. In particular since the beginning of the “al-Aqsa Intifada” in the autumn of 2000, the number of violent actions against Jews and Jewish institutions has increased, with the suspected perpetrators mainly from Muslim and Arab communities, especially from those of Maghreb origin which itself is most vulnerable to xenophobia . But right-wing extremist groups also used the situation for an “Anti-Zionist” campaign. In addition, a certain influence was exerted by legal proceedings started in June 2001, based on a law passed in Belgium in 1993 that also enables criminal prosecution of crimes committed in foreign countries. Survivors of the massacre in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 used this law to undertake legal proceedings against the then Defence Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon for crimes against humanity. An Israeli inquiry had found that Sharon was indirectly responsible, prompting his resignation. The attempted prosecution itself, but also the delaying of a decision over many months, caused an international stir, not the least because Belgium assumed the EU Presidency on 1 July 2001 and had the request seriously examined. On 26 June 2002 the court dismissed the charges.

On 30 May, Reuters reported that a confidential Senate Report, based on evidence from the State Security Service, stated that Belgium is a recruiting ground for Islamic militants. Apparently, the Saudi-backed Salafi Movement has created some sort of religious “state within Belgium.”

1. Physical acts of violence

According to the current report of the American Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, since 11 September 2001 around 2000 anti-Semitic incidents have taken place, whereby no distinction has been made between violent attacks and other forms. Already on 5December 2001, the Chief Rabbi of Brussels, Albert Gigi, was physically assaulted by a group of youths in Anderlecht (Brussels). After shouting at him and his companion “dirty Jew” in Arab, they followed them into the subway and one of them kicked the Rabbi in the face, breaking his glasses. After the first graffiti appeared on Jewish shops in February 2002, demanding “Death to the Jews”, the synagogue in the Anderlecht district of Brussels was severely damaged by two Molotov cocktails in the night of 31 March / 1 April. In the following weeks the attacks increased: on 17 April unknown persons set fire to a Jewish bookshop in Brussels and on the following day the front window of a kosher restaurant were shattered by an air rifle; during the night of 20 – 21 April 18 shots were fired at the façade of the synagogue in Charleroi. During a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Antwerp on 1 April, which took place near a Jewish area and in which ca. 2000 persons took part, front windows were shattered and an Israeli flag burnt.

Between 15 May and 15 June 2002 the following attacks or violent acts against Jews have been recorded. Compared with the attacks the month before, the number of incidents was relatively low.

19 May: a group of Jewish youngsters aged 13 were threatened by a group of Arab youths at the City Park. One of them menaced the Jewish youngsters with a mock rifle. The police intervened and arrested the youth.

25 May: a group of adolescent immigrants (around the age of 13) vandalized the restaurant of the Maccabi Soccer Club belonging to the Jewish community of Antwerp. They spread anti-Jewish slogans across the club walls, destroyed doors, windows and furniture. The youngsters were caught by the police. After interrogation and an interview with their parents, they were released.

28 May: a shop on the Frankrijklei, a major avenue in Antwerp, was smeared with the following slogans: “Kill the juif. Laat ze lijden (let them suffer), fuck Belgium”.

The Antwerp police have also gathered evidence of damage to bus stops, shops or public buildings. In most cases these were graffiti of the SS insignia, the swastika and the Star of David.

2. Verbal aggression/hate speech

Newspapers reported the following incidents:

• On 19 April unknown persons smeared a Jewish shop in Brussels with slogans such as “Dirty Jew” and “We will burn you”.

• In the second half of May an anonymous letter of anti-Semitic and revisionist character was sent to a survivor of the concentration camps after this person had published an article in a widely circulated public newsletter.

• In the second half of May 2002 an article of highly anti-Semitic nature was published in a free journal published in the Charleroi region.

• On 3 June an anti-Semitic letter, originating in France, was sent to an individual in Belgium.

• Racist and anti-Semitic slogans continue to belong to the repertoire of many football fans.

Internet

Websites of Belgian origin with racist and anti-Semitic texts have increasingly gone online in recent times. The Centre for Equal Opportunity and Combating Racism was able to identify 82 Belgian sites, which spread such material. On 6 June a complaint about racism was introduced at the CEOOR against Dyab Abou Jahjah, President of the Arabian European League (AEL). His Internet site encourages hatred, discrimination and violence towards the Jewish community. The complaint concerns a press statement in which the AEL urged people to join a demonstration in Antwerp to be held on 8 June 2002. According to the League, this demonstration has to take place in Antwerp since “the power (there) is in the hands of a Zionist lobby and extreme right racists” and, furthermore, because “Antwerp represents the bastion of Zionism in Europe” and is a city “where pro-Sharon gangs of Zionists are dictating the rules”. Instead, Antwerp needs to become the “Mecca of pro-Palestinian action”.

On 17 January the far left anti-globalisation website Indymedia Belgium relayed photographs of three corpses of children who should have fallen victim of the supposed Israeli practice to use bodies of Palestinians for organ theft.

MediaJoel Kotek, professor at the Free University of Brussels refers to the one sided reports on Israel in the Belgium media: ”Israel is portrayed by the Belgian media, notably “Le Soir”, the most widely circulated French-language newspaper in Belgium, as well as by “Vif l’Express”, its weekly supplement, as solely responsible for the violence which has shaken the Middle East for almost two years. Frequently, in their forum pages and in letters to the editor, Israelis are equated with Nazis and in more extreme publications anti-Semitic motifs appear in anti-Israel propaganda.”

3. Research studies

The survey commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in ten European countries has collected information on “European Attitudes towards Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israel Conflict” between 16 May and 4 June respectively between 9 and 29 September.

European Attitudes towards Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israel Conflict

Statement Belgium Denmark France Germany United Kingdom Spain Italy Austria The
Netherlands

 

Jews don´t care what happens to anyone but their own kind
25%
16%
20%
24%
10%
34%
30%
29%
15%
Jews are more willing to use shady practices to get what they want
18%
13%
16%
21%
11%
33%
27%
28%
9%
Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country
50%
45%
42%
55%
34%
72%
58%
54%
48%
Jews have too much power in the business world
44%
13%
42%
32%
21%
63%
42%
40%
20%

Percent responding “probably true” to each statement / 500 respondents in each country

Taylor Nelson Sofres, margin of error +/-4.4% at 95% level of confidence

For Belgium a clear agreement emerged with anti-Semitic stereotypes. From the four stereotypical statements presented, 39% of respondents agreed to at least two, 21% with at least three and 6% with all four. Fifty per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country”, a rate somewhat below the EU-average of 51%, and 38% agreed with the statement “Jews still talk too much about the Holocaust” (EU-average: 42%).

4. Good practices for reducing prejudice, violence and aggression

Following the multi-religious meetings organised since 11 September 2001, the CEOOR proposed an action plan, the implementation of which is still in the preparatory phase. However, it has already been decided to create a website containing a list of associations which subscribe to diversity and mutual respect and a set of pedagogical tools to improve and foster interculturalism. There will also be a section on how to make a complaint about racism to the CEOOR. Finally, there will be an index of key words and concepts, which will be elaborated and explained in a language understandable by the general public.

5. Reactions by politicians and other opinion makers

Within the Belgian legal framework there are two laws dealing with the fight against anti-Semitism, notably the general anti-racism law of 1981 and the law of the denial of the Holocaust of March 1995.

• Immediately after the assault on the Brussels Chief Rabbi was made public in January 2002 and the debate in the Parliament, moderate forces within the Jewish community in Brussels organised a meeting with Muslim leaders.

• On 5 April 2002 a Round Table Conference was held on the initiative of the Belgian Government with representatives from the social partners, the Jewish and the Muslim communities, the Ligue des droits de l'Homme (League of Human Rights) and the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism. After the attacks on a few synagogues in Antwerp and Brussels different communities requested the Round Table Conference. A common declaration was signed and commitments were made by the different actors to undertake concrete measures in the near future.

• On 19 April 2002 the Belgian Interior Minister, Antoine Duquesne, made a joint declaration with his colleagues from France, Spain, Germany and Great Britain on “Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism”. Given the background of international tension, in particular in the Middle East, they characterised the racist and xenophobic violence as an offence against freedom, democracy and human rights and pronounced European-wide preventive measures and a coordination of the responsible agencies and offices. At the Interministerial Conference for the Equal Opportunities Policy, which took place on 17 May 2002, a concrete action plan was introduced and approved by the Government.

 

 

Sources: C.R.I.F. - Released by the European Jewish Congress

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