Antisemitism in contemporary Belgium

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Belgium is a European country with a population of approximately 35,000 Jews. It is among the countries which experienced an increase in both antisemitic attitudes and in physical attacks on Jews.

According to Jeffrey Goldberg, the contemporary situation stands in contrast with the post-war decades, which were marked by a public consensus that antisemitism is morally wrong.[1]

1980s through early 2000s[edit]

The 1980s were marked by a number of anti-Jewish attacks, including the deadly 1980 Antwerp summer camp attack on families waiting with their children for a bus that would carry them to a Jewish summer camp, part of a wave of attacks on Jewish targets worldwide that included the synagogue in Copenhagen, the bombing of a synagogue in Paris, the 1981 Vienna synagogue attack, attacks on a synagogue in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1983, attacks on synagogues in Buenos Aires and Rosario Argentina in 1984, an attack on a Jewish film festival in Paris in 1985, the 1982 Great Synagogue of Rome attack, and the 1981 Antwerp bombing in which 3 people were killed and over 100 wounded.[2]

In April 2002 the facade of the Charleroi synagogue was sprayed with bullets.[3] In 2003 a 33-year-old man of Moroccan descent parked a car alongside the synagogue of Charleroi, poured gasoline over the car, and set it alight in an attempt to destroy the synagogue.[4] Authorities investigated it as possible terrorism. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt condemned the attack but stated that he saw no need to raise security around Jewish institutions in Belgium.[4] Firefighters were able to douse the fire before it destroyed the building.[5]

Post 2014[edit]

2014 was marked by an increased frequency of antisemitic attacks, with anti-Semitic attacks recorded by the government increasing by 50% over the previous year.[6] The increase is often dated from the May 2014 Jewish Museum of Belgium shooting.[6][7] Two days later, a young Muslim man entered the CCU (Jewish Cultural Center) while an event was taking place and shouted racist slurs.[8] A month later, a school bus in Antwerp, that was driving 5-year-old Jewish children was stoned by a group of Muslim teens.[9] Towards the end of August 2014, a 75-year-old Jewish woman was hit and pushed to the ground because of her Jewish-sounding surname.[10] Belgian politician Assan Aarab, running for municipal office in Antwerp on the Christian Democratic and Flemish list, publicly apologized for antisemitic statements.[11]

In 2014 The New York Times reported on crowds of protestors near the European Parliament building in Brussels shouting “Death to the Jews!”[12] On September 14, a crowd that had gathered in Brussels to dedicate a plaque memorializing the Holocaust was attacked by "youths" hurling rocks and bottles.[12] On September 18, a synagogue in the Anderlecht neighborhood was set on fire in a suspected arson attack.[12] These were among a series of incidents, including an ethnically Turkish butcher in Liège who put up a sign stating that he would serve dogs but not Jews, and a commuter train announcement that the next stop would be “Auschwitz” and ordering all Jews to get off, that caused growing numbers of Jews to leave, or to consider leaving Belgium.[1][6][12][13] The incidents are concentrated in Brussels, where anti-Jewish activity is driven by Muslims, who constitute about a quarter of the population of the city.[1][12][14] In June, the government earmarked $4 million for increased security at Jewish institutions.[15]

In 2015 Prime Minister Charles Michel declared a "zero tolerance policy" towards antisemitism.[16] His government fired the operator of a government hotline assisting victims of the 2016 Brussels bombings; the operator had responded to a call requesting assistance transferring two of the wounded home to Israel by insisting that Israel does not exist.[17][18] The number of families moving from Belgium to Israel in 2015 reached a 10-year high.[19]

In 2016 the government-funded, Catholic Sint-Jozefs Institute secondary school in Torhout declared that it was "very proud" of a retired teacher who won a prize for his antisemitic cartoon at the International Holocaust Cartoon Competition.[20] Europe-based journalist Cnaan Liphshiz, who has family ties in Belgium and is fluent in both of the national languages, has written that reporting this case changed his understanding of antisemitism in the small country. Watching the teacher praised by his school and celebrated in Belgian media as a "champion of free speech," made Liphshiz realize that "classic antisemitism" of a type he had thought "impossible in an established Western democracy in the heart of Europe," is now "mainstream" in Belgium.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Goldberg, Jeffrey (April 2015). "Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Jewish Targets: Recent Attacks: Chronology". New York Times. Associated Press. 7 September 1986. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  3. ^ "Belgian synagogue sprayed with bullets despite police monitoring". BBC. 22 April 2002. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Belgian police thwart attack on synagogue". Jerusalem Post. 15 June 2003. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  5. ^ "Man arrested in Belgium about to blow up synagogue". BBC. 13 June 2003. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Matthew, Holehouse (30 November 2015). "Paris attacks and Brussels raids prompt Belgium's Jews to consider new exodus". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  7. ^ "4 killed in shooting outside Jewish Museum in Brussels". CFCA. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  8. ^ "Antisemitic threats near the CCU (Jewish Cultural Center) building". The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  9. ^ "School bus carrying ultra-Orthodox Jewish children stoned in anti-Jewish attack". The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  10. ^ "Antisemitic attack against 75 old woman". CFCA. La- Libre. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  11. ^ "Belgian politician Hassan Aarab sorry for Holocaust comment". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 8 August 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  12. ^ a b c d e Yardley, Jim (23 September 2014). "Europe's Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows". New York Times.
  13. ^ "Belgium Anti-Semitism Sends Jews Fleeing". The Forward. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 13 July 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  14. ^ Ain, Stewart (29 March 2016). "In Brussels, 'Jews Are The Canary In The Coal Mine'". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  15. ^ "Belgium to spend $4 million on security for Jewish institutions". Jewish Publication Society. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  16. ^ "Zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism, Belgian PM vows". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 3 September 2015. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  17. ^ "Operator of Belgium terror hotline fired for telling caller Israel doesn't exist". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 31 March 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  18. ^ Moore, Jack (1 April 2016). "Belgium Terror Hotline Operator: Israel Doesn't Exist". Newsweek.
  19. ^ Liphshiz, Canaan (20 April 2016). "As Jews flee Belgium, a seder marks a family exodus". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  20. ^ Liphshiz, Cnaan (10 August 2016). "Belgian school 'proud' of teacher honored at Iran Holocaust cartoon show". Times of Israel. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  21. ^ Liphshiz, Cnaan (25 August 2016). "How my JTA reporting about an anti-Semitic cartoon changed my views of Belgium — for the worse". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 27 January 2017.

Further reading[edit]