BELGIUM, West European kingdom.
The Medieval Community
Jews first appeared in the southern Netherlands during the early 13th century, although the exact date of their settlement there cannot be ascertained. They arrived from the east, most probably from the large Rhenish communities, and did not migrate further south than *Brussels and Mechlin (*Ma-lines). Most of the immigrants settled along, or within proximity of, the Cologne-Bruges axis. Jews are mentioned in Jodoigne (in Brabant province) in about 1200; in Louvain, where a small community lived precariously, in about 1220; in Tirlemont in about 1230; and in Brussels shortly before 1260. In his will (1261) Duke Henry III ordered that "all Jews and usurers be expelled from the province of Brabant. They are to be totally extirpated until not even one remains, unless they undertake to engage in commerce after the fashion of other merchants and agree to cease their practice of moneylending and usury." Apparently their expulsion was not implemented. When consulted, Thomas *Aquinas recommended that the Jews should be taxed moderately, so as not to deprive them of the necessary means to lead a decent existence. He added that it was preferable to compel them to earn their livelihood by manual labor rather than become wealthy by the practice of usury. The fact remains that they were not disturbed in any of their occupations. The organization of a crusade in 1309 brought this comparative tranquillity to an end. After the massacre of Jews in Louvain who had refused baptism, Duke John II took the survivors under his protection. Jews later returned to Louvain, and in 1311 had their own rabbi. The number of Jews throughout Brabant during this period was not large.
As a result of the expulsion from France in 1306, a number of exiles found refuge in the province of Hainaut. They were scattered in about ten localities, the community in Mons being the most important. In 1326, a converted Jew was put to death in Cambron, on a charge of stabbing an image of the Virgin. In 1337, the count of Hainaut renewed his protection of the Jews. A census on this occasion showed 18 Jewish families, comprising 35 adults. They subsequently scattered in other cities
in Hainaut, but their numbers remained small. The *Black Death (1348–49) calamitously disrupted the existence of these communities. Accused of having introduced the plague by poisoning the wells, the Jews were either massacred by the populace or executed by the authorities. Almost all the Jews in Brabant were put to death. In Brussels the community ceased to exist. The massacre may have spread to *Antwerp, and few communities in Hainaut remained unscathed.
Thus the Jews disappeared almost completely from Hainaut. In Brabant, however, tiny communities were reestablished. There were seven families living in Brussels in 1368 and two in Louvain. In 1370 the Jews in Brussels and Louvain were accused of desecrating the Host, and after confessions extracted by torture a number were burned at the stake. The Jews thus disappeared also from Brabant. The role and number of the Jews in medieval Belgium were unimportant. Mainly petty moneylenders, their restricted numbers prevented them from wielding any influence in the economic life of the country. They were generally regarded as foreigners and as such exposed to violent hostility.
The Resettlement Period
It is only in the early 16th century that Jews again appeared in the southern Netherlands. At that time, Portuguese merchants made their way to the north, attracted by the economic development of the Netherlands, first to Bruges and then to Antwerp. Possibly the majority of them were *Marranos whose presence was sanctioned by a safe-conduct accorded to the New Christians in 1526. The newcomers consolidated their presence in Antwerp, notwithstanding a number of inconsistent measures concerning them. For a number of them, such as the future Duke of Naxos, Joseph *Nasi, or the physician *Amatus Lusitanus, Antwerp was only a place of transit en route to the hospitable Turkish haven. The Marrano population of Antwerp gradually increased with the intensification of their persecution in Portugal. However, with the establishment of an open Jewish community in *Amsterdam, the main tide of Marrano settlement was diverted to that place and to Holland generally. On the other hand, the Dutch Jews now not infrequently visited Brussels or Antwerp, sometimes for prolonged periods, without suffering serious inconvenience. When Antwerp came under Austrian rule in 1713, the community was at last able to profess Judaism more openly. With the occupation of the Netherlands by the French revolutionary armies in 1794, Jews were able to settle freely in Brussels and Antwerp. From the early 18th century, there was also a slight immigration of Ashkenazi Jews to Belgium. The authorities took care to limit their numbers by the imposition of special taxes which aroused vehement protests by the Dutch Jews, who rejected this attempt at discrimination.
Under French domination, Belgian Jewry, which then numbered some 800 persons, was incorporated into the *Consistory of Krefeld; the administrative framework disappeared with the downfall of Napoleon's empire. The principal communities in Belgium at the time were in Antwerp, Brussels, Herentals, Liège, and Mons. From 1831, once Belgian independence was achieved, the Jewish religion received official recognition, religious freedom being an integral part of the constitution guaranteed by the Concert of Europe. However, the synagogue councils were not officially recognized until 1870. The organization of Belgian Jewry remained strongly influenced by the Napoleonic prototype. Centralized in Brussels, it was administered by the Consistoire Central Israélite de Belgique.
Throughout the 19th century, Belgian Judaism developed on the French pattern. At the end of the century, however, as a result of the influx of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe, Belgian Jewry underwent a process of bipolarization which has lasted to the present day. Brussels was the center of French influences while in the Antwerp community Yiddish influences, and accessorily Flemish, were equally strong; occasionally conflicts arose between the two. In 1900, Antwerp numbered some 8,000 Jews, the greater part intending emigrants en route to the United States. The sudden impetus given to the diamond industry by the discovery of mines in South Africa opened numerous possibilities of employment in Antwerp. After an interruption during World War I, when part of the Jewish population migrated to Holland, the Jewish community again began to grow. Massive immigration to Antwerp, as well as the local particularism, rapidly resulted in a marked difference in character between Antwerp Jewry and the main body in Belgium, not only from the economic aspect, but also from the aspect of Antwerp Jewry's anxiety to retain the traditional forms of Jewish life. The Antwerp community resisted assimilation with more success than neighboring Brussels. This was also due to the care taken to ensure that almost every child should attend a Jewish school. The Jewish community of Antwerp remained faithful to its East European origins and was rightly considered as a bulwark of European Judaism. The Brussels community, as well as the smaller communities, had also benefited from a strong numerical
[Simon R. Schwarzfuchs]
The study of the Holocaust in Belgium has been complicated by lack of unified research and by contradictory accounts. Furthermore, as the Belgian Constitution does not allow any mention of religion in documents of civil status, exact official data are lacking.
When the German army invaded on May 10, 1940, between 90,000 and 110,000 Jews lived in Belgium, among whom there were probably about 20,000 German refugees. Only 5–10% of the Jews in Belgium were of Belgian nationality, while the majority of Jews who immigrated to Belgium from other countries had to remain foreign nationals. Antwerp had at that time at least 55,000 Jews, forming Belgium's largest, and economically, socially, and culturally most closely knit Jewish community, and thus suffered more heavily than the loosely knit community in Brussels (at least 35,000) and the other smaller communities: Charleroi, with at least 2,000 Jews; Liège, 2,000; Ghent, 300; and Namur, 50. At the time of the invasion, the adult males among the German-Jewish refugees were treated as suspect aliens although many had volunteered for the Belgian Army. They were rounded up by the Belgian police and interned in the Gurs camp in France. Their families remained behind, many reliant on the social welfare committees of the Jewish communities.
The majority of Jews in Belgium fled the country, mainly southward toward France. Some managed to escape German occupation and emigrated overseas; others were overtaken by the German armies and ordered to turn back. Many who reached unoccupied France were lured back to Belgium a few months later in accordance with Nazi policy at the time to assuage the fears of the Jews and prevent the rise of antagonism among the non-Jewish population. Belgium capitulated on May 28, 1940, and was held under military rule until the liberation in September 1944. The German military occupation set up a Belgian administration in charge of civilian affairs, which was instructed by the Wehrmacht to carry out anti-Jewish measures. This situation was more favorable than that for the Jews in the *Netherlands, where the *Gestapo was in charge of carrying out anti-Jewish measures. The anti-Jewish policy was executed in two stages. The preparatory phase circumscribed the Jewish population, ordered their geographic fixation, and brought about gradual economic and social paralysis. The exterminatory phase, which began on July 22, 1942, consisted of labor call-ups, followed by roundups and razzias for internment in the Dossin assembly camp near Mechlin (Malines). From there, the inmates were deported to extermination camps in the east.
The succession of edicts followed that in other Nazi-occupied countries, though what the Germans termed the "lack of understanding of the local population," and the courageous and well-supported Jewish resistance did slow up the persecution somewhat. The tragic and still not forgotten experience in Belgium of German occupation during World War I brought about more immediate and efficient resistance than in the Netherlands. The first edicts were issued in October 1940. Ritual slaughter was forbidden (Oct. 23, 1940). The first sign of racial discrimination was the ordinance of Oct. 28, 1940, which defined who was a Jew and prohibited the further return of Jews to Belgium. It required all Jews above the age of 15 to register at the communal administration and have the letter J stamped on their identity cards. The registration affected about 42,000 Jews; apparently 10,000–13,000 Jews did not register at all. Jewish property had to be registered, and was not transferable. Notices of Jewish ownership in three languages (Flemish, French, and German) had to be posted. Jews in the fields of law, education, and communication were prohibited from practicing their professions. The first protest was raised by the Belgian associates of Jewish professional men and the Belgian administration in the case of discriminatory legislation bearing on Jews in the professions. They objected to the anti-constitutional character of the anti-Jewish legislation and claimed they were unable to carry it out. The Belgian government in exile, residing in London, laid down a decision on Jan. 10, 1941, that all laws imposed by the German occupation which contradict the Belgian Constitution would be annulled at the time of liberation.
In 1941, further edicts were issued to restrict and paralyze Jewish life: edicts for confiscation of radios (May 31); enforced declaration of bank holdings (June 10); prohibition against residing outside the four large cities of Antwerp, Brussels, Liège, and Charleroi (August 29); and a curfew between 8 P.M. and 7 A.M. (August 29). On Nov. 25, 1941, the German military commander for Belgium and northern France ordered the formation of a Judenrat, called Association des Juifs en Belgique (AJB), under the pretext of organizing Jewish social welfare for the community and furthering Jewish emigration. A national committee of seven representatives was to encompass all Jews and take over existing Jewish bodies and their property. Rabbi T.S. Ullman, the only rabbi of Belgian nationality, accepted the presidency only after consultation with high Belgian authorities. Local committees were formed in Brussels, Antwerp, Charleroi, and Liège. Although no documents attest to the modes of constitution of these committees, there are indications that the Germans held sway over the choice of their members. In the course of time, the members of the AJB committees were utilized by the Germans as a front for carrying out their own aims. On Dec. 1, 1941, the Judenrat was ordered to set up an educational system for Jewish children who were expelled at that time from the public schools by the Germans.
The AJB was ordered to hold another census of the Jews and, by March, forced to take charge of the distribution of callups
On May 27, 1942, the Nazis issued an order for every Jew to wear the yellow badge. The Belgian administration refused to promulgate the order and the Germans were forced to do it themselves, but a few days later they imposed the task on the AJB. The Belgian population showed its hostility to this discriminatory measure, expressing its sympathy in various ways. By June 1, 1942, Jewish doctors, dentists, and nurses were forbidden to practice on gentile patients. Previously (March 2 and May 8), forced labor for the Nazi organization Todt had been imposed theoretically on all the unemployed, but was in fact aimed at the Jews, who had been evicted from all economic pursuit. The underground issued pleas not to submit to these labor call-ups. By July 1942, summonses were issued to unemployed Jews to report to Malines for "work in the east." At first the summonses were meekly obeyed, but the resistance movements' warnings started taking effect and people went into hiding. As the call-ups provided insufficient numbers of "volunteers," the Germans commenced their razzias. The first convoy of 1,000 Jews left on Sept. 2, 1942. Within five weeks, 10,000 had been deported. Later, the deportations slowed down. By July 31, 1944, 25,631 victims had been deported in 31 convoys. Only 1,244 of the deportees returned after the war. Belgian leaders, among them the queen mother Elisabeth and Cardinal van Roey, intervened on behalf of the small number of Jews of Belgian nationality, and the Germans agreed to omit them from expulsion as long as they would not transgress German laws. This show of tolerance was short-lived. On Sept. 3, 1943, Jews holding Belgian citizenship were all rounded up and deported.
The Jewish population required time to organize resistance. Some Jews individually joined the ranks of the Belgian underground. But after the dissolution of Jewish organizations, the former social and political groups started regrouping, mainly for the purpose of mutual social help. Anti-fascist elements grasped the significance of the persecutions sooner and formed a group of about 70 Jewish armed partisans, many of whom fell in the line of duty. An estimated 140 fell, including those who fought as individuals in the general armed resistance. The Committee for Jewish Defence (CDJ, recognized officially after the war as a civilian resistance group affiliated to the Front de l'Indépendance) comprised a complete range of Jewish groups and individuals. It soon realized the need to hide Jews, and called upon all the Jews to resist and disobey any German edicts as well as instructions from the AJB. The Committee developed a vast, well-organized network of activity for hiding children (an estimated 3,000 children were thus saved) and adults (an estimated 10,000). In fact, in Belgium a high proportion of Jews was saved compared to other occupied countries. Places of hiding, identity papers, food ration tickets, and money were obtained, and escape routes established toward Switzerland and Spain. The cultural aspect of the Jewish resistance groups was remarkable. They distributed information and propaganda material, established a lending library, and maintained a Jewish illegal press. The Yiddish paper Unzer Vort appeared 28 times, and Flambeau in French and the Vrije Gedachte in Flemish appeared with the help of the Belgian illegal press.
Contacts were made with numerous non-Jewish organizations that helped, including Oeuvre Nationale de l'Enfance, Jeunesse Ouvrière Catholique, the Red Cross, a number of Catholic institutions, and underground resistance movements. As time went on, more and more money was needed to keep alive those in hiding. Millions of francs were contributed by local Jews and non-Jewish organizations and credit was allotted. Later, large sums were secretly obtained through Switzerland, and some came from the Belgian government-in-exile. A number of people managed to escape from deportation trains in a feat unique to occupied Belgium. The 20th convoy departing on April 19, 1943, was attacked in a well-organized action initiated by the CDJ together with Georges Livchitz and partisans of Group "G" (an armed resistance group). It enabled several hundred to escape, although many of them were caught or killed by the Germans. Another Jewish underground group, the Ninth Brigade, was organized under the aegis of the Mouvement National Belge, a more rightist group. A little-known and rather circumscribed resistance activity was carried out by the federation of the Zionist parties, which succeeded in obtaining through Switzerland a few immigration certificates to Palestine which protected the holders from deportation. At one point (1941–42) a hakhsharah (agricultural training program) for members of Zionist youth movements was provided. According to partial studies and reports by former participants, there were innumerable cases (not generally known) of underground activity, including armed attacks on collaborators, sabotage, and withdrawing those children in hiding who were exposed and in danger of arrest by the Gestapo.
The Catholic Church on many occasions intervened on behalf of the Belgian Jews through the work of Cardinal van Roey, who acted mainly through his secretary Canon Leclef. On Aug. 4, 1942, he alerted the Vatican to the inhumanity of the racial laws, pointing out that even Catholics of Jewish origin were affected. The Church was largely efficacious through its request to Catholic institutions to hide Jewish children and to refrain from baptizing them, unless specific permission was given. When the German-Jewish refugees in Antwerp were
[Rivka Irene Banitt]
Early postwar years
In 1945 the Jewish population was composed of those who had remained in the country, had returned from exile, or were liberated from prisons and camps. Until about 1955, thousands of Jewish refugees from Eastern and Central Europe resided in Belgium for a limited time, awaiting immigration permits to other countries of permanent settlement. In the 1960s both emigration and immigration considerably decreased. The number of Jews in Belgium in 1970 was about 40,000. This population, essentially urban, was distributed approximately as follows: Brussels, 18,000; Antwerp, 12,000; Liège, 1,000; Charleroi, 500; Ghent, Ostend, and Arlon, 1,000; the remainder was dispersed among other cities. As the Jewish population became stable, social and economic integration within Belgian society improved in many respects. It was not especially difficult to obtain citizenship, and a great number of immigrants and their descendants were therefore Belgian citizens. Although many arrived in the country without independent resources, within a short period they displayed great social mobility. The majority came to belong to the middle class and were active in the fur and textile industry, wholesale and retail trade, crafts, and the manufacture of clothing and leather goods. Antwerp Jewry has been professionally concentrated for a long time in the diamond industry and trade. Since the end of World War II, more young people have undertaken university studies, resulting in the growth of the professional and white-collar classes. Though the country's economic progress benefited the Jewish population, there was still a small number of underprivileged persons and social cases, most of whom were cared for by the community. The favorable attitude of the government and communal authorities, as well as the population as a whole, facilitated the integration of Jews in Belgium, though from time to time in the first two decades after World War II certain manifestations of antisemitism were provoked by small factions of the extreme right.
The Jewish religion is legally recognized along with the Catholic and the Protestant religions. Belgian laws also guarantee public Jewish worship. In 1970 there were 12 recognized Jewish communities in the country: four in Brussels, three in Antwerp, and one each in Liège, Charleroi, Ghent, Ostend, and Arlon. Two of these communities were Sephardi, the others Ashkenazi. The rabbis, cantors, and synagogue boards were elected by the members of the community. Each community has proportional representation at the Consistoire Central Israélite de Belgique, which represents the communities in their relations with the state. Though this institution, of Napoleonic origin, supervises the administration of synagogue properties and examines their budgets and accounts, it generally does not intervene in their internal affairs but is called to ratify the nomination of rabbis and ḥazzanim.
Until 1980 the chief rabbi was appointed by the Consistoire to act as the supreme authority on Jewish religious affairs. Since that time the post has been formally vacant, though Albert Guigui, rabbi of Brussels from 1983, acted as rabbinic adviser to the Consistoire and in effect fulfilled the function of chief rabbi. In addition, at the outset of the 21st century, four government-recognized regional rabbis, including Guigui, were in office. Cultural differences between communities represented in the Consistoire were evident. Some older communities reflected many formal aspects of the Reform movement, which spread through Belgium during the 19th century, but whose influence was reduced by East European Jews. The result of the contact between the two elements was the widespread practice of Conservative Judaism. Other communities remained faithful to an Orthodoxy imbued with Yiddish Ashkenazi traditions. In spite of the differences, most blatant in the contrasting character of the Brussels and Antwerp communities, the Consistoire preserved a sense of unity. The state paid the salaries of the regional rabbis, cantors, and state-recognized teachers who provide religious instruction in public primary, secondary, and technical schools throughout the country. The state also subsidized Jewish day schools in which courses of Jewish content were taught in addition to the compulsory general curriculum. The state's contribution to various religious and educational institutions illustrates concretely the recognized position of the Jewish religion, which gives observant and nonobservant Jews a feeling of security and confidence.
About 100 Jewish organizations, either revolving around the recognized communities or developing on the fringe, are active in every facet of Jewish life. The main types of organizations are welfare and philanthropic, Zionist and pro-Israel, communal bodies, youth movements, and independent religious, political, cultural, and sports-oriented groups. Welfare and philanthropic organizations are united for fund-raising purposes in Brussels and are absorbed into a central body in Antwerp. These two centralizing institutions collaborate at the national level in La Conférence Permanente des Oeuvres Sociales Juives de Belgique. Youth movements are grouped in La Fédération de la Jeunesse Juive de Belgique. Very influential before the war, the Zionist Federation of Belgium continues to concern itself with the renewal of its structure and with the aim of expanding its membership; but since the creation of the State of Israel, the distinction between Zionists and non-Zionists within the community has lost much of its acuteness. Indeed, most Belgian Jews express their support of Israel, and for many of them it has developed into a component of their identity. Manifestations of this support are shown in various ways: financial contributions, collective trips to Israel, the
[Max Gottschalk /
The Jewish population of Belgium in 2002 was estimated at 31,400, equally divided between French and Flemish speakers, with around 15,000 Jews each in Brussels and Antwerp and the rest in such shrinking communities as Liege, Charleroi, Arlon, Mons, Ghent, and Ostend.
An important merger of community organizations began in 1971 to unify divergent organizations under a central umbrella organization, which would serve as spokesman for Belgian Jewry. As a result, in 1977, 21 Belgian Jewish organizations banded together, as well as the communities of Liege, Charleroi and Ghent. In September 1977 the Coordinating Committee and the Belgian Section of the World Jewish Congress merged into the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations, affiliated with the WJC with the president of the Belgian Section as its head. By 2002 it had 41 members and, together with the Consistoire, was recognized as an official representative of the Jewish community for political matters. A parallel organization, Forum oder Joodse Organisaties, founded in 1994 and based in Antwerp, represented Flemish-speaking Jews before the authorities.
The Consistoire remained the central authority for Belgian Jews in religious matters, with 16 member congregations in 2002. In all, around 50 synagogues and places of worship were in operation (around 30 in Antwerp). A Jewish chapel opened (1986) at the Brussels international airport, following the request of Orthodox travelers. Religious life continued to be much more intense in Antwerp with its largely Orthodox population than in Brussels. However, starting in the late 1980s Brussels witnessed a strengthening of its more traditionalist religious life – the creation of two new Orthodox communities, the suppression of the organ and the mixed choir at the principal synagogue, the opening of a kosher restaurant and a yeshivah. The Israelite Community of Waterloo and of Southern Brabant, which belonged also to this current, was recognized (1992) by the Cult Administration only four years after its creation. The new congregation is the result of changes in the urbanization of the Brussels area; its membership consists largely of English-speaking expatriates. The Liberal congregation has grown steadily and in 1984 founded its own burial society with its own cemetery.
A reorganization of the Belgian Zionist Federation took place in 1976. Following an intensive nationwide membership campaign in 1975–76, some 5,000 Jews enrolled as members of the Zionist Federation, which has branches in five communities, all of which were directly represented on the directorate.
The World Conference of Jewish Communities on Soviet Jewry convened in Brussels in 1971 and 1976. The congress was hosted by the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish organizations, the Jewish Secular Community Center of Brussels, and the National Belgian Committee for Jews in the Soviet Union. The congress, sponsored by the World Zionist Federation, World Jewish Congress, B'nai B'rith, the Public Councils for Soviet Jewry, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in the United States, and various national committees for Soviet Jewry, was attended by 1,200 representatives from 35 countries throughout the world, and hundreds of leading Jewish and non-Jewish personalities.
Jewish education in Belgium continued to benefit from the national educational system, providing for diverse religious studies in all State schools where a significant number of parents request them. Such classes are attended by 60 percent of Jewish public school children in Brussels and 30 percent in Antwerp. Though paid for by the State, teachers are hired by the Consistoire and supervised by its religious inspectors. In addition, the State subsidizes the general curriculum of Jewish day schools, attended by around 7,000 children in the early 2000s. There were three such schools in Brussels (Maimonides Athenaeum, Ganenou Athenaeum, Beth Aviv) with around 2,000 children, and three in Antwerp (Tachkemoni, Yesode Hatora, Yavne) which together with a number of ḥasidic ḥadarim and some other institutions accommodated around 5,000 children. Extracurricular studies were conducted through the community talmud torah in Brussels and youth groups at the community centers, and through the Zionist youth movements. Adult Jewish education continued to improve, with Hebrew courses taught in conjunction with the Jewish Agency. The Ministry of Education also largely supported a free faculty of Jewish studies called "Institut Universitaire d'Etudes du Judaïsme" founded in 1972 and operating under the auspices of the Brussels Free University, which since the academic year 1986–1987 has recognized Institut degrees in Jewish history, thought, and civilization. The Flemish section (created in 1983 at the Vrije Universiteit te Brussel) was later moved to the Instituut voor Joodse Studies in Antwerp.
In December 1974, the Volksunie Party submitted a bill to Parliament granting amnesty to former Nazi collaborators. The bill was strongly opposed by the Belgian Jewish community, led by the national Jewish organizations of ex-servicemen, former resistance fighters, and deportees, as well as by their Christian counterparts, and on March 25, 1976 the bill was defeated by a vote of 98 to 81 with 3 abstentions.
Belgium has been the site of a number of Arab terrorist attacks on Jewish or Israel-connected objectives. In 1979 there was an attempted attack on El Al passengers at Brussels airport. In July 1980 a hand grenade was thrown into a group of children about to leave Antwerp for summer camp; one
After the municipal (October 1988) and European elections (June 1989), the general elections (October 1991) confirmed the success of the right-wing parties by electing politicians openly against immigration as well as against Jews (in Antwerp 20 percent of the population voted for them). This was not a specifically Belgian phenomenon but an international one, as was stressed at the conference of the World Jewish Congress held in Brussels in July 1992, called "My Brother's Keeper."
Also giving rise for concern were the killing in 1989 of Professor Joseph Wybran, president of the political body of Belgian Jewry; the release (July 1990) of a Palestinian terrorist in exchange for the freedom of four Belgian hostages held by the Abu Nidal group; and antisemitic slogans painted on walls. All these events brought protests from Jewish bodies to the government, which reacted positively.
Antisemitic outbursts became particularly widespread with the onset of the second Intifada in Israel in 2000, which, coupled with pro-Palestinian terror throughout Europe and the local anti-Israel press, made life for Belgium's Jews distinctly uncomfortable. Among the incidents recorded in the early 2000s were the firebombing of synagogues, including rifle fire in one case, and Nazi and antisemitic graffiti. In 2001 Rabbi Guigui was attacked in the street by young Muslims of Moroccan origin.
Jewish-Christian relations remained essentially cordial. The Consistoire worked together with the National Catholic Commission in Belgium, a subcommittee of the National Commission for Ecumenism, and the Belgian Protestant Council for Relationship between Judaism and Christianity, sponsored by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Belgium. A regular interfaith scholastic dialogue, "Institutum Judaicum," was conducted as well as more general lectures and study groups on Judaism, and an Interfaith Bulletin published.
Following the end of the Carmelite Convent affair in Auschwitz (August 1993), a Judeo-Christian Consultation Group was organized. It had to deal with two exhibitions illustrating anti-Jewish prejudice like the Bible des Communautés Chrétiennes which was uncovered by a researcher of the Leuven Catholic University.
As to the Israel-Vatican Agreement, it was in Brussels that the World Jewish Congress held a seminar with the main negotiators (Monsigneur Celli from the Vatican and Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi *Beilin) to assess the situation one year later (December 1994).
From December 1985 to May 1993 the "Yarden affair" provided a bad image in the media of the ḥasidic community and of the Jews. Thanks to the work of the FBI, the three children born of a mixed marriage and kidnapped by the father (a member of the Satmar ḥasidic group) before he was put in a Brussels jail were given back to their mother.
On the official level the Consistoire also maintained cordial relations with Muslim representative bodies in Belgium.
REMEMBERING THE HOLOCAUST
Holocaust consciousness was heightened among Belgian Jewry. The case of the Carmelite convent in Auschwitz (see *Auschwitz Convent) was first taken up in Belgium. Actions around this affair froze official interfaith relations, although in 1993 a "Committee of Consultations between Jews and Christians in Belgium" was set up. After the publication of Professor M. Steinberg's thesis on "The History of Jews in Belgium between 1940 and 1944," an international colloquium on "The Holocaust Period in Belgium" was organized in Bar-Ilan University in Israel (1989). Belgium television (French and Dutch channels) produced and broadcast several documentaries on this subject followed by discussions.
As approximately 20,000 Jews were hidden by Christians during the last period of the Holocaust, several memorials were opened in remote places by different associations, one of which, the Belgian Hidden Children Association, helped organize the first congress in New York on this subject.
The 50th anniversaries of several historical events were commemorated by impressive ceremonies attended by thousands of Jews and non-Jews. For the 45th celebration of VE-day, King Baudouin attended a gathering in the Jewish National Memorial; it was the first time in the history of Belgium that the ruling king ever came to a Jewish monument.
Paradoxically the right-wing political successes occurred during the period of the 50th anniversary of the events linked to the end of the World War II. From King Albert II, who attended the opening of the museum in Mechelen (May 7, 1995) to his son Philippe, who was at the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto and the attack of the XXth convoy (April 1993), from the prime minister, who visited Auschwitz with a former Jewish Belgian deportee (January 1995) before the official pilgrimage (March 1995), to the Ministry of Education, which launched a nationwide campaign entitled "Democracy or Barbarism … 50 Years After," everyone tried to do something to remember what had happened 50 years before. Numerous exhibitions attended by millions of people, TV series, books, new plays, movies, operas, and classical music programs were presented on the subject. Most of the time the fate of the Jews was underlined.
A memorial to Belgian Jews who perished in the Holocaust was dedicated in Antwerp (November 13, 1994).
The first European meeting of hidden children was organized at the University of Brussels (April 30–May 1, 1995) and three ceremonies were held for Righteous Gentiles during 1995.
Belgium also created a commission in 1997 to investigate the fate of Jewish assets seized during the war. Subsequently, in
Relations with Israel
Important circles in Belgium displayed sympathy for Zionism and supported the struggle of the Zionist movement almost from its beginning. Noteworthy were the active support of Queen Elisabeth and various Socialist leaders, including Emile Vandervelde, Camille Huysmans, de Brouquère, and Paul Henri Spaak. On Nov. 29, 1947, Belgium voted in the UN in favor of the establishment of a Jewish state and it was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel (de facto Jan. 31, 1949, and de jure in January 1950). These relations were subsequently elevated to the ambassadorial level. The Israel ambassador in Brussels is also accredited in Luxembourg, which is tied to Belgium through a customs' pact, and is attached to the European Economic Community, whose seat is in that city. Trade relations between Belgium and Israel developed satisfactorily and tourism also increased, reaching 8,000 people in 1968. Belgium filled a specific role in Israel's foreign relations because of its special position in the process of European integration and the fact that Brussels had become a sort of "capital of Europe." Many of Israel's diplomatic efforts directed toward the European Community passed through Belgium, which was either a host or an active participant in the creation of the new European identity. The official ties between the two countries included the visit of Queen Elisabeth and a short visit of King Baudouin, which was mainly a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the visits of President Izhak Ben-Zvi and prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol to Belgium.
During the 1970s trade between Israel and Belgium continued to grow. Exports from Belgium (including Luxembourg) to Israel rose from $115 million in 1972 to $404 million in 1980, while imports from Israel rose from $49 million to $236 million. By 2004 the figures were $955 and $695 million, respectively, excluding diamonds. The movement of diamonds between the two countries reached $5.5 billion.
In March 1992, elections were held in Belgium to the Zionist Congress: 3,140 voted (25 percent more than in 1987). The results showed a shift to the right, possibly because the leader of the left was involved in organizing a meeting with Palestinians. The anti-Israel feelings prevailing in the media since the Lebanon War were still felt among the population and the flow of tourists going to Israel dropped. One consequence was the closing of the Israel Tourist Office in Brussels. The Oslo Accords brought a resurgence of goodwill but the onset of the second Palestinian Intifada produced a dampening of official relations, fueled by a hostile press and the presence of half a million Muslims in the country, as the Belgian government, professing evenhandedness, regularly voted for anti-Israel resolutions in international bodies, including the UN. In 2002 Belgium suspended arms sales to Israel and in 2001 and 2002 the Brussels and Flemish Regions of Belgium suspended their cooperative agreements with Israel. Tensions came to a head when war crimes charges were brought against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel *Sharon in Belgium for his part in the Lebanon war under Belgium's "universal jurisdiction" legislation. Israel withdrew its ambassador. Subsequently the Belgian Supreme Court ruled that Sharon could not be tried while serving as prime minister of Israel.
Since 1992, Israel has had two ambassadors in Brussels, one for the EEC, the other for Belgium.
E. Ouverleaux, Notes et documents sur les Juifs de Belgique sous l'ancien régime (1885); S. Ullmann, Studien zur Geschichte der Juden in Belgien bis zum XVIII. Jahrhundert (1909); idem, Histoire des Juifs en Belgique jusqu'au 19e siècle (1934); E. Ginsburger, Les Juifs en Belgique au XVIIIe siècle (1932); J. Stengers, Les Juifs dans les Pays-Bas au moyen âge (1950); E. Schmidt, Geschiedenis van de Joden in Antwerpen (1963). HOLOCAUST PERIOD: R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1961), 382–9; C. Reitlinger, Final Solution (19682), 398–408; Belgium, Commission d'enquête sur la violation des règles du droit des gens…, Les crimes de guerre commis sous l'occupation de la Belgique 1940–1945: la persécution antisémitique (1947); Gutfreund, in: Yalkut Moreshet, 2 no. 4 (1965), 43–55; Liebman, in: Centrale (Bruxelles, March 1964); B. Garfinkels, Les Belges face à la persécution raciale 1940–1944 (1965); Steinberg, in: Regards, nos. 29 and 30 (Aug.–Oct. 1968); E. Schmidt, Geschiedenis van de Joden in Antwerpen (1963). CONTEMPORARY JEWRY: Centre National des Hautes Études Juives, La vie juive dans l'Europe contemporaine (1965), with Eng. summ.; J. Gutwirth, in: JJSO, 10:1 (1968), 121–37; idem, in: Les Nouveaux Cahiers, no. 7 (1966), 56–63; C. Lehrer, in: L'Arche, no. 62 (1962); S. Brachfeld, Het Joods Onderwijs in België (1966); A. Tartakower, Shivtei Yisrael, 2 (1966), 225–37. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: AJYB (2003).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.