President Isaac Herzog arrived in Brussels on Wednesday two days after the departure of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who in his own meetings with Belgian and European Union officials called for sanctions on Israeli settlements and their products and urged that the concept of a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians be preserved.
Herzog left Israel on a dawn flight, and soon after landing in Brussels was welcomed at the Royal Palace by King Philippe. The two had a cordial discussion during which Herzog expressed appreciation for the goodwill enjoyed by the Belgian Jewish community.
“One of the main events on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a session of the European Parliament, which represents the nations of Europe," said Herzog on the tarmac before taking off early Wednesday morning. "I will have the privilege of appearing before the Parliament and to speak for the State of Israel, the democratic, strong, nation-state of the Jewish People, which extends its hand in peace."
“I will tell the story of the Holocaust’s victims and survivors. I will be moved to think that eighty years ago, nobody could have imagined that the head of a state of the Jewish People would stand before a European parliament and mark the most terrible event in the history of humanity.
Herzog to meet with local, international leaders in Belgium
Other meetings on Herzog's itinerary for Wednesday and today, Thursday, included the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola, the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg, and Jewish community representatives of Brussels and Antwerp.
But the most important reason for his visit is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day Address that he will deliver today to the European Parliament.
“At all these places, I shall of course raise the enormous challenge facing us and the whole Middle East in the form of Iran, which is racing toward nuclear weapons, using terror throughout the Middle East, and supplying weapons used against the Ukrainian people," said the president. "I shall also raise the issue of the hostages and MIAs, our sons, whom we call for Hamas to release immediately and return to Israel. Thank you very much.”
On Thursday, Herzog will visit the European Parliament and deliver the main address at a special plenary session marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Later in the day, he will meet NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and representatives of NATO member-states.
In the address, he will raise the issue of virulent antisemitism that is permeating Europe and other parts of the world and will emphasize the responsibility of Europe to join with Israel in fighting all forms of racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia.
The president meets local Jewish schoolchildren
Herzog subsequently visited the Athenee Ganenou Jewish School, and was delighted to see the large student population. The school has some 700 students from pre-school to matriculation age.
Herzog was initially welcomed by school officials, first graders and participants in the sixth-grade bar and bat mitzvah program.
The school was founded in 1961 and it currently has about 700 students from preschool to the age of 18. In addition to the full secular curriculum, as required by the Belgian Ministry of Education, the school's students also learn Hebrew, the Bible and Jewish cultural practice.
He was very pleased to answer a question put to him by 10th grade student Ariel Shade who asked how to best maintain the link between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel.
Herzog advised the youngsters to learn more about Israel than whatever they read on websites. "First of all, come to Israel and have a truly immersive experience," he told them, explaining that they need to see and feel the country which is made up of people from more than a hundred nationalities "who came and fought, and built an incredible place which is a source of light for the world."
Herzog added that there is a lot of distortion about Israel on social media and there's a misunderstanding of the unique nature of Israel as a multicultural society.
Herzog also clarified that in coming to Belgium, he carries two agendas. On the one hand, he represents Israel as a member of the family of nations that meets with other nations, and on the other hand, he is the representative of the nation-state of the Jewish people and therefore meets with his brothers and sisters.