Skip to main content

anti-semitism in belgium

Liliane Seidman and Eliane Sperling-Levin attended a seminar on Anti-Semitism in Belgium, on 6 October 2013 at the Martin Buber Institute, University of Brussels, chaired by Prof. Thomas Gergely, Director of the Institute of Jewish Studies.
 
Belgium has a bi-polar Jewish community, some 42.000 strong, of which about 15.000 in Antwerp, and the rest in Brussels and several much smaller communities. While Antwerp is mainly traditional with a sizable Ultra-Orthodox group, being divided in some 20 different groups, Brussels is by and large secular.
 
There has been a marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the last few years. Examples are mostly of verbal abuse, an extreme case being of Muslim demonstrators chanting "Hamas, Hamas, and all the Jews to the gas". This creates unease and, according to Prof. Gergely, is one of the factors leading to increased immigration to Israel. 
 
The keynote speaker was Prof. Eliezer Ben Rafael, sociologist from the University of Tel Aviv. He reported on an important study undertaken in 2012 about European Jewry, including Belgium "Perceptions and Experiences among European Jews". A total of 6.000 respondents took part, of which 438 Belgians. The sample has been carefully balanced to take account of different categories, such as age, gender, socio-economic status, etc., with the important provision that the Ultra-Orthodox Community declined to take part.
 
 Asked to define themselves, 40% stated that they were secular; 15% Liberal, 17 % Orthodox. 25% observe certain traditions and rituals. The majority feels a strong link with the Jewish People, and 60 % identify with the State of Israel. 75 % consider that one may criticize Israel. However they do not approve of the boycott - BDS. On hotly debated issues: 2/3 are against legal steps which would prevent the traditional Brit Milah and 60 % are against attempts to outlaw ritual slaughtering.
 
On Anti-Semitism: 25 to 35% of participants have reported personal experience of, mostly verbal incidents, acts being few. All agree that there is no institutional Anti-Semitism in Belgium. Many of the same patterns are found in other European countries, with slight local variations.
 
Prof. Eliezer Ben Rafael’s conclusion was that multiculturalism creates an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in Europe in different ways such as caricatures, graphitic on the walls, physical and verbal attacks supported by the Medias.
 
Dr. Joël Kotek, lecturer in Political Sciences at the University of Brussels and in Paris, looked at Anti-Semitism from a different perspective.
 
He reviewed the sources of traditional anti-Semitism: the attitude of the Christian churches over the   ages be they Roman Catholic, Calvinist or the Orthodoxies, be they Byzantine or Muscovites. In the present age, the difficulty lays with the attitudes of Islamic populations, and in particular the Arabs. In the same way as Christians since the Middle Age adhered to the theory of "substitution", i.e. the Christian Church has become the "Chosen People", so today Islam claims to have replaced the Jews. Hence the continual references to Auschwitz, to the suffering of the Palestinians. The Arabs have an ingrained feeling of being rejected, of injustice.
 
On the political level, neither side has a monopoly of anti-Semitism. The extreme right fuels the feelings of anti-Semitism, with unabashed verbal attacks, which had been unacceptable in the post WW II world. But anti-Semitism is also rife among the Left, the Arabs and Islam being seen as the underdog. Palestine is seen as the left- over from the era of colonization.
 
Prof. Gergely - who many know from his address at our European Conference in Brussels - took us through the history of Moslems and Jews. Since 1955 the credo is that there is no difference between Jews and Zionists: Judaism is the enemy of Islam.
 
Conclusion: if Israel did not exist, there would be peace in the Middle East. One can only reflect badly on the present conflict in Syria.
 
Prof. Benoit Bourgine, of the UCL, the French speaking Catholic University of Louvain, recalled the various steps taken by the Vatican, since Nostra Aetate, to redress the wrongs of the Catholic Church with respect to Judaism. This has not entirely changed deeply ingrained attitudes, but has gone a long way to full recognition of Judaism as the elder brother of Christianity. Some Catholic media show determined hostility to Israel, and hence to Jews generally, as part of their support and identification with the Palestinians, viewed as the underdog.
 
Prof. Delruelle, who is a former co-director of the Commission on Equal Opportunities in Belgium, gave some interesting figures. Two scientific studies were carried out to ascertain attitudes of young people in Brussels. 50% were found to have clearly anti-Semitic attitudes. Of those who were Moslems, 47 to 50 % gave anti-Semitic responses, and those coming from Catholic backgrounds 40%. It seems that among Moslems homophobia is prevalent, and that these two types of attitudes are linked: hatred of gays and of Jews.
 
Both Christian speakers, stressed that within the framework of the striving to redress wrongs done to Jews, Catholic as well as Protestant bodies, had put  considerable efforts into revising text books to eliminate anti-Judaism and thus contribute to education devoid of prejudice and racism.
 
As conclusion, the problem of anti-Semitism is not easily solved. In Belgium one must not over-state it, even if there is no doubt an increase in recent years. The positive factor is that there is no discrimination in any of the state institutions and that there is a body of legislation against any form of racism.