Denial of religious freedom for Belgian Jews

January 5, 2019 21:29
3 minute read.
Belgian soldiers stand guard on Brussels' Grand Place

Belgian soldiers stand guard on Brussels' Grand Place. (photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)


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On April 21, 1933, three months after Hitler was appointed chancellor, Nazi Germany banned humane slaughter of kosher animals (shechita) in the country. On January 1, 2019, a similar law forbidding shechita took effect in Flanders, home to half of Belgian’s Jewish population of 40,000. In August 2019, the Walloon region will also enact a ban, leaving only Brussels without this edict.

Both the Nazi and Belgian statutes cloak their antisemitism under the guise of animal welfare. The legislation allows animal slaughter only if preceded by electric stunning. But stunning injures the animal, which renders the meat unkosher according to Jewish law.

Antwerp’s 12,000 haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews make up the largest hassidic community in Europe. Their slaughterhouses have supplied much of Europe with kosher meat for generations.

The current denial of religious freedom to Belgian Jews did not happen in a vacuum. Belgium was a neutral country in World War II until it was invaded by Germany in May 1940. Under Nazi occupation, 25,000 Belgian Jews were murdered. Although Belgians were involved in the resistance movement, many collaborated with the German forces. The Flemish (Flanders’ inhabitants), with pro-German sympathies, participated in the deportation of Jews to their death. A 2007 Belgian government report regarding the role of Belgian authorities in persecuting and deporting Jews during WWII states that Belgium “adopted an obedient approach, and collaborated in a manner unbefitting to a democratic country... in a devastating policy toward the Jewish population,” concluding, “The Belgians sacrificed the Jewish community to try to preserve ‘normality’ and the orderly functioning of the economy.”

Today, the use of classic anti-Jewish symbols, demonic images and tropes to attack Jews and Israelis is rampant in Flanders. Classic antisemitism practiced by hate mongers on the Right is now joined with leftist demonization, defamation and delegitimization of Israel (the Jewish collective) and Islamist violence against Belgian Jews. A high school textbook approved by the Belgian Education Ministry shows an overweight elderly Jew with sidelocks sleeping in a bathtub full of water under a rain shower while an elderly Palestinian woman stands with an empty water pail to portray Israel and Jews as denying Palestinians access to adequate water.

In a single day last week, 192 asylum seekers from the Middle East were admitted to Belgium, including 50 single men from Gaza. The population of the Molenbeek section of Brussels consists primarily of unemployed Muslims, including foreign fighters returning from Syria. The municipality’s mayor has described it as “a breeding ground for violence.”

In 2014, Islamic terrorists killed four people at the Jewish Museum of Brussels. A rabbi was stabbed in the throat on his way to deliver a sermon in Antwerp. A Brussels-based jihadi cell masterminded the 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Hypercasher kosher supermarket atrocities in Paris. In 2016, three coordinated suicide bombings in Belgium killed 32 civilians and injured 300 others. Video captured one attacker chasing two Orthodox Jews at the airport moments before the bombing there.

Last week, Flemish politician Karl Vanlouwe blamed the government for indulging radical networks with “extreme tolerance” and turning Brussels into a “base for Islamic barbarism.” Belgium has more foreign fighters per capita traveling to ISIS’s battlefield than any other European Union country.

Belgian Jewish students are being forced out of public schools because of antisemitic bullying, and Jewish schools are under heavy military guard. Fearing for their lives, many Belgian Jews refrain from wearing kippot or Star of David necklaces in the streets and have removed their front-door mezuzot. Many of the country’s Jews have migrated to Israel, not wanting to repeat the fatal failure of Jews under similar circumstances to escape in the WWII era.

Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union, which has recognized that freedom of religion constitutes an essential foundation in the “construction of pluralistic and inclusive societies.” In 2016, the Court of Belgium ruled that a ban on shechita was an infringement of freedom of religion under the Belgian Constitution.

Over 2,000 years ago, the Maccabees rebelled against the Greek monarch Antiochus who forbade them to keep the Torah’s commandments, including ritual slaughter. The traditional religious practice of shechita must continue to be protected.

The writer is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center.

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