Sophie Wilmes: Belgium’s first female and first Jewish prime minister

#5 - Jewish leader: Sophie Wilmes

Sophie Wilmes, Belgium Prime Minister (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Sophie Wilmes, Belgium Prime Minister
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Sophie Wilmes is Belgium’s first female and first Jewish prime minister. She is also the only Jewish prime minister in Europe, at a time when antisemitism is rising both in her country and on the continent itself.
She has spoken out on antisemitism and, in particular, has issued the harshest rebuke by a high-level government official against the annual carnival of Aalst.
The controversial parade in that carnival often includes antisemitic caricatures, that has featured Jews with hooked noses or SS officers.
“The federal government is sensitive to the reactions to some floats and costumes at the carnival.” Whereas the event is “much more than only that,” she wrote, ”these actions damage our values and the reputation of our country.” Israel and Jewish groups have called on Belgium to halt that parade.
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As someone who lost family members in the Holocaust, she participated in the World Jewish Congress Twitter event to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“#WeRemember the 6 million victims of the most horrible and shameful event in history -Holocaust. This 27th of January should remind us to always be vigilant towards racism, antisemitism and all forms of hate of what is different #notonmywatch.” But her Judaism has not played a major role in her political career and is something she rarely references.
Wilmes, 45, heads the French-speaking liberal Reformist Movement party and is a mother of four.
She became prime minister in October 2019, as the head of a caretaker government and has a mandate to operate until October 1, at which point another parliamentary vote would be needed to extend that mandate unless a government is formed in the interim. It’s unclear if she would be able to retain her seat should the government crisis extend beyond September 17.
On her web page she wrote, My political and career choices have always been inspired by a desire to work for the benefit of the community. Day in, day out, I dynamically, diligently and transparently endeavor to improve everyone’s day-to-day lives.” Wilmes added, “More generally, I am committed to playing an active role in building a civic, responsible and sustainable society where everyone feels safe and can freely realize their full potential.”
JTA contributed to this report.