Yuli Edelstein 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
MECHELEN – The sort of anti-Semitic attacks that took place in Europe in 1938 are occurring here today, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein told European dignitaries and Jewish leaders on Thursday night.
“A brick hurled at a Jewish shop. A Molotov cocktail at a rabbi’s house. A Jewish girl attacked at school. These aren’t memories of Europe in 1938, but headlines in 2011,” Edelstein said in a speech at a ceremony in Belgium.
Edelstein represented Israel at an event celebrating Belgium’s chairmanship of the intergovernmental Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education.
Belgium will replace the Netherlands as the task force’s leader in March. Under Belgium’s chairmanship, the task force is to be transformed and renamed the International Holocaust Remembrance Organization. Some 300 people attended the ceremony in Mechelen where Edelstein spoke last week.
“My concern is the escapism that occurs in these ceremonies,” Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post
after his speech.
“Conclusions from current incidents in Belgium, Holland and elsewhere must be drawn: Anti-Semites replace ‘Jew’ with ‘Zionist’ or ‘Israeli.’ They tell any blood libel and call it political debate.”
Edelstein noted that not all EU states were members of the task force and called on Belgium to “make sure that at least all EU states join this important body.”
Julius Berman, chairman of the Claims Conference – the body representing world Jewry in negotiations with Germany about restitution for the Holocaust – also spoke at the event in Mechelen.
He called on the Belgian chairmanship of the task force to make sure Holocaust education is “in fact a part of the school curriculum of every member country” and that it address not only the murder of Jews but also the theft of their property – “the precursor to genocide,” as Berman called it. The European Union “needs to do much more for restitution and memory,” he said.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo delivered his message via a pre-recorded video address. He promised to “fight and oppose any anti- Semitic incident” but announced no concrete plans to achieve this.
Belgium has approximately 40,000 Jews. In 2010, watchdog groups recorded a 60 percent rise in anti-Semitic attacks, and last year the Jewish Agency said aliya from Belgium had increased by 63%.
Eli Ringer, honorary chairman of the Flanders Forum of Jewish Organizations, mentioned in his address the persecution of Egyptian Copts and said that “religious extremism and fundamentalism” threatened democratic structures whose foundations came from lessons drawn from the Holocaust and World War II.
The National Commission of the Jewish Community of Belgium for Restitution and Memory chose to hold the event in Mechelen – a city from which some 25,000 Belgian Jews were sent to Auschwitz in cattle cars in August 1942. Only 1,584 survived.