Nearly 42% of Jews in Belgium have considered emigrating from the country in the last five years, according to a new a report on antisemitism by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). Belgium is among the countries where antisemitism is highest, just behind France and Germany.
Researchers interviewed more than 16,000 people, self-identifying as Jewish in twelve European countries. The Belgian sample is made up of 785 people. The report focuses on their experiences and perceptions of antisemitism and the frequency with which they were victims of harassment because they were Jewish. The previous European survey on this topic dates back to 2012. Since then, there has been the 2014 attack against the Jewish Museum in Brussels, as well as the ongoing wars in Iraq and Syria.
“Around me, half of my friends have left in the last two years, ” says EJC Executive Vice-President & CEO Raya Kalenova, who arrived in Belgium from Russia 40 years ago and is definitely Belgian. “Many have left with young children, and felt torn apart by this decision because of their attachment to their home country”.
The Jewish community in Belgium is relatively small and has between 35,000 and 40,000 people. The report by the FRA shows that Belgian Jews consider themselves well protected by the state (Schools and other institutions are under police surveillance, there is political support for the security of Jewish communities), but report the experiencing harassment by radical Muslims, as well as youth gangs and far-left groups. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has consequences on the level of antisemitism.
More than 85% of respondents in France and Belgium believe that the conflict has had an impact on their sense of security, compared to only 20% in Hungary and Poland. Half of Belgian Jews believe they are blamed “permanently or frequently ” for what the Israeli government does.
Jewish organisations are advocating for clarity on criticism of Israeli policies. They support the working definition adopted in 2016 by the International Alliance for the Remembrance of the Holocaust (IHRA). “Seven European countries, but not yet Belgium, have adopted this definition, which distinguishes between the criticism of the Israeli government and the denial of Israel’s right to exist”, says Ms. Kalenova.
The FRA report speaks of a “normalisation of antisemitism”. He mentions the precautions that Jews take to avoid being exposed to insults, hurtful remarks or violence. Some do not wear the yarmulke in public anymore, others take their children out from public schools or avoid attending the celebrations of their community.
“In Belgium, there are practically no Jewish children in public schools, ” says Ariella Woitchik, Director of Legal and Public affairs at the EJC. “Before many went to Catteau or Dachsbeck, two schools in the centre of Brussels, but because of harassment and physical attacks, this is no longer the case. The first insult in these schools is ‘Jewish.’ It’s no longer possible to teach the Shoah in some public schools.”