Europe

Belgium: A leading role in fighting Israel and Jews?

In Brussels, the European Parliament and the European Council have adopted strict regulations to combat anti-Semitism in recent years, but the EU’s host country does not feel affected. It is time for this to change, and the EU institutions must play an essential role in this — and more with deeds than words.

Some Belgian politicians have long wanted to put Israel in the dock, and they found a welcome opportunity to do so in Israel’s response to the recent rocket attacks by an internationally recognised terrorist group, Hamas. The debate has shifted towards blatant anti-Semitism. The leader of the Flemish Green Party, Meyrem Almaci, unabashedly accused “Jews” of doing to Palestinians what they endured during the Holocaust. And she deliberately told the untruth by suggesting that Israel was vaccinating the “Jews” but not the Arab population againt Covid19.. 

So Flemish Greens announced to put targeted sanctions against Israel on the federal government’s table. Almaci made the announcement on 17 May on the public broadcaster VRT’s TV programme ‘De afspraak’. Almaci suggested boycotting products from Israeli settlements and blocking money flows to these areas. “I think that now there should be a firm international pressure that our country (Belgium, note) should be allowed to take the lead on this issue within Europe,” Almaci said.

And one journalist on the programme even touched on the myth of dual loyalty: she persistently asked about the alleged Jewish origins of Sophie Wilmès, Belgium’s current foreign minister. And another journalist in the studio tried to exculpate her by saying that the politician rather came from a Catholic family. And one can hardly believe it: In 2021, a TV programme is actually debating putting the current foreign minister of Belgium on trial for double loyalty. 

Of course, they did not talk about the origins of any other participant in this debate or other politicians in Belgium or anywhere else in Europe. It is the alleged Jewess who is distrusted. A myth of dual loyalty that Europe knows what atrocities it has already justified.

So the Jewish people are once again under general suspicion, as they were since the Middle Ages. Mrs Wilmès became the first woman prime minister of Belgium last year, leading the country through the first wave of the pandemic. Now at the helm of Belgian diplomacy, she is criticised by some of her coalition partners for her lack of toughness towards the state of Israel. 

Anti-Semitism, which has been rampant in various forms in Belgium for several decades, now reached the country’s elites.

“It’s a bit exaggerated… probably because she’s German” – that’s what Belgium’s acting deputy prime minister Petra De Sutter (a Green politician) reduced part of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech to. The latter had indeed mentioned the heinous anti-Semitic excesses of the Aalst carnival in September 2020. In the Flemish town, masked people like from the “Stürmer” had paraded with hooked noses and baikeles as well as bags of money. After protests, the carnival lost its UNESCO World Heritage status.

A few months earlier, the current Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (of the Liberal Party) had tweeted: “The Jewish lobby is working overtime, after Aalst, in Washington,” blithely mixing denunciations of anti-Semitism in Belgium with statements made by Israeli ministers visiting the United States.

Without going into the assassination in 1989 of the president of the Jewish organisations in Belgium, Dr Joseph Wybran, or the other anti-Semitic attacks of the 1980s, the events that have marked the last decade in this country are a tragedy. 

In 2014, Belgium performed the first act of this tragedy: from a poster outside a café “Dogs allowed, but not Jews”, to the call for the murder of Jews in the streets of Antwerp, to the terrorist attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels. The tragedy continued unabated with the flare-up of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial on social networks and in far-right circles, then with the Aalst Carnival to calls for war against Jews on the fringes of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in June 2020 or in May 2021. Who knows what will follow?

If today the country’s elites are infected by the virus of anti-Semitism, it is because for too long anti-Semitism in Belgium has been a problem that only the Jews really cared about. Whether it comes from extremist circles, from the right or the left, or from certain sections of the Muslim communities, it has never been effectively combated. It is high time that this changed. Europe must save Belgium from the anti-Semitism that is slowly eating it up.

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