Blunt antisemitism in official Belgium textbooks

Antisemitism in official Belgium textbooks masquerades as political critique.

March 31, 2018 22:20
2 minute read.
Blunt antisemitism in official Belgium textbooks

A combination photo shows anti-Israel posters at an exhibition during the 7th International Conference of Mahdism Doctrine in Tehran July 14, 2011. Scholars from Iran and around the world will present papers on the Mahdism Doctrine in the two-day conference which will end on Friday. The Persian word. (photo credit: MORTEZA NIKOUBAZI/ REUTERS)


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When a member of my organization’s legal network (the International Legal Forum) recently reported that a 2018 Belgian school textbook includes a caricature bluntly vilifying Jews, I could scarcely believe it.

The geography textbook, meant for 15-year-old students and approved by the Belgian Education Ministry, shows an overweight Jew asleep in a bathtub, next to an impoverished elderly Palestinian with an empty bucket, in a chapter dealing with the topic of water distribution between Israelis and Palestinians.

The cartoon reads: “Amnesty International: Israel is denying Palestinians access to adequate water... while settlers enjoy lush lawns and swimming pools!” Amnesty International, a human rights organization that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and a United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, seems to find no discrepancy between its professed defense of human dignity and its blunt vilification of Jews.

Antisemitism, it seems, has in recent years not only permeated European society but is also getting backed up by organizations that hypocritically claim to campaign for human rights.

As classic antisemitism became less fashionable across Europe, organizations like Amnesty International, which has a special consultative status at the UN, seem to have found a back door for the continual infusion of Jew hatred into the collective European psyche. Instead of targeting Jews as Jews, the antisemitism we find today largely aims to legitimize and increase acceptance of antisemitic notions by hiding under the facade of legitimate criticism of the State of Israel and Zionism.

While criticism of Israeli policies is surely lawful, the usage of symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism, employing sinister characteristics of Jews, is clearly outside of the boundaries of legitimate critique; there is a marked distinction between presenting the claim of unequal distribution of water, and doing so via a cartoon depicting a Jew with demonizing characteristics.

The fat Jew, stealing other people’s money, water, food and even blood is unfortunately painfully familiar. Such images provoke negative and antisemitic sentiments in the viewer, especially when delivered to young and impressionable viewers by an authority figure.

The Belgian Education Ministry, which has allowed this caricature dehumanizing Jews to appear in its school book, also seems to endorse the poisoning of young minds who have yet to form their political opinions by denying them access to a wide spectrum of data, and differing viewpoints.

For organizations like Amnesty, it seems, propaganda is “fact” and only one possible narrative may be supported by these “facts.” The topic of water distribution inequality between Israelis and Palestinians is thus presented as an unquestionable truth rather than as an argument open for examination.

Furthermore, the blatant endorsement of the current resurgence of antisemitism by governmental institutions such as the Belgian Education Ministry is not only immoral but also illegal.

The usage of this caricature by Amnesty as well as by the Belgian Education Ministry is a direct violation of the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on June 1, 2017, calling on member states and their institutions to adopt and apply the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

As long as the UN continues to back up cultural and classic antisemitism by supporting organizations like Amnesty, antisemitism will continue masquerading as a political critique. With conspicuous caricatures like the above, however, it might start needing to look for a bigger mask.

The author is director of the International Legal Forum, and specializes in human rights and international law.

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