Antisemitism rises sharply in Belgium after Israel-Hamas violence escalation

Antisemitism rises sharply in Belgium after Israel-Hamas violence escalation
Credit: Belga

Since the start of the violence between Israel and Hamas at the beginning of October, the Jewish community in Belgium has been feeling increasingly unsafe, with five times as many reports of antisemitism than usual this month.

Since the severe escalation of the conflict on 7 October, Belgium's equal opportunities centre Unia received 18 Dutch-speaking reports of antisemitism and 11 French-speaking ones – "many more than usual," Unia director Els Keytsman told De Morgen.

"Before this, we were getting an average of five reports of antisemitism per month," she said, adding that Unia also opened three Dutch-language cases and one French-language one itself. "When we read the report of physical aggression towards a Jewish couple at the Ypres train station in the media, we immediately took action."

Not all reports that Unia received are directly about antisemitism. Many also concern "reports about the conflict in general", a spokesperson told VRT.

Growing safety fears

The Shmira, a Jewish internal organisation of volunteers who look after the safety of the Jewish community in Antwerp, has also seen a significant increase in the number of reports: they have received 231 since the start of the month.

"100 reports are for verbal aggression," the organisation told Het Laatste Nieuws. "126 are so-called provocative behaviour incidents, such as someone shouting Free Palestine in the faces of Jewish people. Five reports are physical. A Jewish child was pushed from his bicycle and fell, a man was kicked in the stomach, another was punched in the face for no reason."

The Shmira said it received about 50 reports every month before the escalation of the conflict on 7 October.

Vigilance remains necessary

Meanwhile, in Antwerp, where the Jewish community in Belgium is very present, Mayor Bart De Wever has again called on the Federal Government to deploy the army to guard the Jewish quarter. To his dismay, however, his calls are not being answered by the national authorities.

"In France, this happened immediately. That is the most normal thing in the world," De Wever said on Flemish radio. "The federal police has no reserves, so structurally they cannot send extra people to Antwerp. If that is how it is, then fine. They do have the strength of the Defence Ministry, but they do not want to use it in their own country."

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According to De Wever, there have already been several "incidents" in Antwerp as a result of the violence between Israel and Hamas. "So far, they have fortunately been no more than incidents, such as bullying and vandalism. These are, for example, aimed at businesses of people who have nothing to do with that conflict, but are chosen as targets. That is distressing."

He stressed that the fear and concern of the Jewish community should be listened to and taken into account, but also that the Antwerp residents who want to express their sympathy for Palestinians should be able to do so. "I try to get everyone who is of goodwill into dialogue."

But vigilance remains necessary, De Wever said. "My greatest concern is that there would be expressions of real violence. And that is of course primarily among the Jewish community. I do not think that people who are pro-Palestine [in Belgium] should fear for their lives today."

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