2000 the number of violent anti-Jewish incidents has risen considerably.
Moreover, there appears to be a correlation between this increase and the
anti-Israel atmosphere in Belgium. Seventeen violent antisemitic acts
against individuals and property were committed in 2001 and 25 from January to
May 2002. Young people from the Maghreb community, influenced by fundamentalist
Islamist circles in Belgium, appear to have been behind some of these attacks;
they also chanted antisemitic slogans during anti-Israel demonstrations and disseminated
the jewish community
Some 35,000 Jewish citizens live in Belgium
out of a total population of 10 million. The two main centers of Belgian Jewry
are Antwerp (15,000) and Brussels (15,000). The Comité de Coordination
des Organizations Juives de Belgique (Coordinating Committee of Jewish
Organizations in Belgium – CCOJB) in Brussels, is the community’s umbrella
organization. Because many European Union institutions are located in Brussels,
the community plays an important role in hosting European Jewish events and in
advocating the interests of communities across Europe.
In June 2002 the
Belgian government, insurance companies and the Belgian central bank pledged to
pay Holocaust survivors a total of 55 million euros to compensate them for
stolen assets and unclaimed life insurance policies. In October Belgian banks
agreed to pay an additional 55 million euros to compensate for funds in
plundered bank accounts.
In April 2002 the
World Jewish Congress convened its executive in Brussels and announced plans to
establish a European-Jewish body (headquartered in Brussels) that would act to
counter the wave of anti-Israel propaganda that is sweeping Europe.
POLITICAL PARTIES AND EXTRA-PARLIAMENTARY
Political Parties of the Extreme Right
Since its success in the 1991 Belgian
legislative elections, the parliamentary far right (Vlaams Blok and Front
national) has moderated its tone considerably on controversial topics such as antisemitism. This restraint is
opportunistic, the goal being to acquire a certain patina of respectability,
and for the Vlaams Blok (VB) in particular, to attract part of the
“Jewish vote” in the city of Antwerp. Thus, for the last few years, VB local
leader Filip Dewinter has indicated solidarity with the Jewish community when
it incurs antisemitic attacks.
Moreover, although a marginal phenomenon, some members of the Jewish community,
in the face of such attacks perpetrated by some groups among the North African
community (see below), have decided to support extreme right parties.
Like many VB
leaders, Dewinter graduated from organizations known specifically for their antisemitism, such as the Nationalistisch Student Verbond (NSV).
s issued by the VB in the 1990s, the Jewish community was depicted as controlling the
country through its hold of financial institutions. Ties
still exist between the VB and small neo-fascist and antisemitic groups (see
national belge, which has been in parliament since 1991, also has large
numbers of antisemites among
its membership. Since its establishment in Brussels in 1985, this
French-speaking party has attracted the leaders of political groups and circles
known for their endorsement of antisemitism
and Holocaust, such as Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie
X (see below), Cercle Copernic (a cultural group of the neo-Nazi New Right),
Parti des forces nouvelles (a political formation with the backing of Walloon
former SS soldier Léon Degrelle), and others. A number of “independent”
publications which print antisemitic
articles have expressed support for the Front’s political struggle. These
include Racines, Contre/Thèses, Le Cri du Citoyen
and Altaïr (see below). A Brussels leader of the Front national,
Daniel Leskens, is closely involved with the Association des Amis de Drieu la
Rochelle, named after a former pro-Nazi French collaborator. Abroad, Daniel
Leskens has close contacts with a number of organizations, particularly French
ones, known for their antisemitism.
Extra-Parliamentary Groups of the Extreme Right
Among extra-parliamentary groups of
the Belgian far right, antisemitism
is less of a taboo than among their parliamentary brethren. Although the
political strategy of extra-parliamentary groups is more radical than that of
the Front national or the VB, the former maintain regular contact with the
parliamentary representatives of right-wing extremism.
circles, the Nation movement represents this radical far right. The main
leader of Nation, Hervé Van Laethem (a former non-commissioned officer
in the Belgian army), had a leading position in l’Assaut, a small neo-Nazi and antisemitic group which was active
from 1988 to 1993. At that time l’Assaut had regular contacts with the Front
national and the VB, as well as with all Belgian and foreign neo-Nazi groups.
Nation is still associated with extreme right-wing organizations in Europe,
such as Unité radicale (in France) and the NPD (in Germany).
In the Flemish
community, various far right groups associated with the VB were or remain close
to antisemitic and
revisionist theses. These include the Hertog Jan van Brabant (HJVB, an
association of former Flemish SS soldiers), the Nationalistisch studenten
verbond (NSV, an association of university students), the Nationalistisch
jongstudenten verbond (NJSV, a branch of the NSV in high schools), the Vlaamse
Jongeren Mechelen (VJM, an organization which operates out of the town of
Malines [Mechelen] and whose supporters include neo-Nazi skinheads), the Voorpost
action group and the Were Di think tank.
Since 2000, the
neo-Nazi splinter group Blood & Honour – Vlaanderen – the official
Flemish section of the British, avowedly National Socialist, skinhead
organization Blood & Honour (B&H) – has been active in Flanders.
B&H has organized (or taken part in) numerous propaganda events glorifying
Nazism, including a “revisionist congress” (2 March 2002; see below), and a ceremony in honor of Adolf Hitler’s birthday (20 April 2002). Several times a year this section organizes and takes part in concerts together with leading
Belgian and foreign neo-Nazi skinhead groups.
has ties with other organizations, especially the Comité Nationalisten tegen globalisering, a nationalist anti-globalization political network
operating out of Malines and supported by several far right Flemish-language
(Jongeren Aktief, Voorpost, the VB youth wing Vlaams Blok jongeren) and
French-language (Nation) groups.
number of Islamist bookshops stock
politico-religious works containing arguments that nurture antisemitism, often through
anti-Zionist or anti-Jewish discourse. As of 1996, one of these bookshops (in
Brussels) was selling The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics, the antisemitic and Holocaust denying work
of former French communist turned fundamentalist Muslim Roger Garaudy.
Islamist circles in Belgium seem to have some influence among Muslim
youth in the country, some of whom chanted antisemitic slogans during
anti-Israel demonstrations organized in Brussels and Antwerp.
Activists within the Maghreb community have circulated anti-Jewish
propaganda, despite calls for calm issued by various Islamic religious and
cultural bodies. Antisemitism appears to be promoted by Islamic fundamentalist groups
such as Centre Islamique de Belgique. In April 2002 the Centre pour
l’égalité des chances et la lutte contre le racisme (CECLR, the
federal government’s public anti-racist agency) lodged a complaint against the
Centre Islamique on the grounds that it had breached the laws against racism
and revisionism. The Centre Islamique had broadcast on its Internet site a
short video document – produced by Lebanese students – equating the State of
Israel with a Nazi dictatorship. In June 2002, CECLR lodged another complaint
against the Antwerp-based Arab European League, also for infringing the
Islamist fundamentalists have been in the spotlight in recent years, antisemitism and anti-Judaism are still very much
present within fundamentalist Christian organizations and religious groups,
with Jews representing one of the main targets of their
politico-religious discourse. Most of these organizations and groups are still
much influenced by the writings of Charles Maurras, the leader of Action
Française, a monarchist and antisemitic movement that was active in France at the beginning of the twentieth century. Numerous ties exist
between Christian fundamentalists
and the far right, which often share the same theories against “rootless and
anonymous high finance” (coded terminology for the Jews). The Front national
belge, for example, is linked to Lecture française, a nationalist
Catholic magazine published by Chiré (also known as Diffusion de la
pensée française, DPF). As noted above, Altaïr, a
Walloon publication for a narrow readership issued by a Catholic professor of
religion known for his antisemitic
writings over the last twenty years, also supports the Front.
Belgium, the Fraternité sacerdotale
Saint-Pie X (FSSP X) is the chief embodiment of Christian Judeophobic
fundamentalism. Founded in Switzerland in 1970 by the late Monseigneur Lefebvre (whom the Vatican excommunicated in 1988), this religious
today be found worldwide. FSSP X views Judaism and Islam as “false religions.”
The former dictatorships of Pétain (France), Franco (Spain), Salazar (Portugal) and Pinochet (Chile) are openly declared by the FSSP X to be desirable models of
political systems. Lefebvre’s
movement continues to condemn punishment meted out to Nazi collaborators in the
wake of the defeat of the Third Reich, and to oppose the various conciliatory
steps taken by Pope John Paul II over the years, such as openness toward Jews.
FSSP X has had a Belgian section since 1979. In summer 2001 its international
second-in-command, Abbé Paul Aulagnier (close to the French FN), settled
in Belgium to run a local section in the country.
Most of the Belgian FSSP X leaders are associated with or are members of the
far right. For example, current spokesman Alain Escada comes from the Front
nouveau de Belgique. Escada, who maintains contact with the French FN, is
president of Belgique & Chrétienté, a fundamentalist political association
which seeks to combat “anti-Belgian racism” and anti-Christianity. Escada also
owns a bookshop which, among other works, sells the writings of the main
theoreticians and ideologues of the European far right. Together with
Abbé Paul Aulagnier, he runs CEPHAS-Diffusion, a new mail order book
service which is a direct offshoot of the Belgian FSSP X. Recruits for this new
fundamentalist structure, which aims to “restore Christianity,” are advised to
read the works of theoreticians of racism, antisemitism and the historical or contemporary far
right, and of former Nazi collaborators, such as Robert Brasillach,
François Brigneau, Henry Coston, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Jean Mabire,
Jean Madiran, Charles Maurras and Robert Poulet.
politico-religious miasma also includes semi-clandestine Orders of Chivalry,
including the Ordre des Chevaliers de Saint-Michel et de Saint-Georges
(which has ties to Alain Escada and the FSSP X). Le Lien fraternel, the
in-house magazine of these “knights,” has in the recent past upheld both
revisionism and antisemitism.
In the 1960s, one of these knights played a part in publishing Révolution
européenne, edited then by a former Belgian collaborator of the SS, Jean-Robert
As in many other countries, since
October 2000 (the beginning of the second intifada), a new form of antisemitism
has become evident, although other forms of antisemitism, generally emanating
from the far right, have not completely disappeared. In the opinion of
Pierre-André Tanguieff, a French political analyst and author of a book
on the subject (La Nouvelle judéophobie, Paris, 2002), nouvelle
judéophobie, or “neo-antisemitism,”
... is based on a
polemical hotchpotch, blending Jews, Israelis and ‘Zionists’, imagined as
representing an evil power. For the new anti-Jews, all the misfortunes of the
world can be explained by the existence of Israel … The old European
antisemitism was a specific form of racism, directed against the Jews. In the
new worldwide Judeophobia, the charge of racism is turned against the Jews.
For the French association SOS Racism and the Union
of French Jewish Students, co-authors of a book on this phenomenon, the new antisemitism is “very much part of
the younger generation despite its anti-racist stance” (Le livre blanc des violences antisémites en France depuis septembre 2000, Paris, 2002). This antisemitism is mainly
expressed among groups of young people whose families have immigrated from
The 2001 annual
report of CECLR (Egalité et diversité, 2001, Brussels,
March 2002, pp. 43–4.), emphasized that this new wave of antisemitism was an outcome of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the intention was to make the Jewish
community play the role of the scapegoat. The CECLR expressed its concern that far
right organizations had taken advantage of this wave to aggravate tensions
between the Arab/Muslim and Jewish communities.
Since autumn 2000
antisemitic expressions in Belgium have become part of a trend to merge the
terms Jews, Israelis and Zionists into a single evil entity. While criticism of Israel by many leftists in Belgium does not necessarily stem from an
antisemitic worldview, antisemitic expressions can be found in anti-Israel
articles by leftists, even in mainstream publications. Texts that are either blatantly antisemitic or have
a more specific anti-Jewish slant circulate in a large number of political and
religious circles. Several mainstream Belgian newspapers, such as Le soir,
have published opinions equating the Palestinian territories with the Warsaw
Ghetto, or Zionism with Nazism. (For
more on this subject, see Joel Kotek, Antisemitic Motifs
in Belgian Anti-Israel Propaganda.)
right groups in Belgium, as in other European countries, anti-Zionist slogans
concepts. The term “Zionist” or “international Zionism” implies the “Jewish lobby,” for example. In Belgium, all
far right organizations demonstrate their support for the Palestinian cause in
one way or another. Among Flemish nationalists (demanding independence for Flanders),
support is mainly through identification with a landless people. Among the francophones,
Nation has long been the movement most closely involved in categorical support
for the Palestinians. Nation leader Hervé Van Laethem even served as a
figurehead for a number of pro-Palestinian far right structures. After taking
parting in the activities of Anti-Zionistische Aktie (AZA), together with Dutch
neo-Nazis, he co-founded – in 1999 at the time that Nation was set up – Intifada
européenne, a small group which supported the Palestinian armed
struggle. Since spring 2002, Van Laethem has been involved with a new group,
the Comité Europe-Palestine. The latter is promoted by the
magazine Devenir and by Vlaamse Jongeren Mechelen.
But support of part
of the European, including Belgian, far right for the Palestinians against the
State of Israel has always triggered stormy and vehement discussion. Since the
outbreak of the second intifada, right-wing European nationalists appear to be
genuinely divided over the Palestinian question. Two tendencies have emerged:
one unconditionally defending the cause of the Palestinian people against Israel,
the other considering that support for the Palestinians should be provisional
rather than absolute. While recognizing the Palestinians as “objective allies”
against “international Zionism,” the latter group stipulates that once the
conflict with Israel is over, the Palestinians will revert to being enemies.
“Our struggle is situated in Europe, and for Europe, and so we will soon defend
ourselves in the streets using the slogan, ‘No keffiyahs, no kippahs! Europe awake!’”
said Fabrice Robert, leader of the French Unité
radicale (UR) (“Vers le combat identitaire,” editorial, 8 April 2002, www.unite-radicale.com/Archives–editos/edito080402.htm). Robert Steuckers, an emblematic
figure of the intellectual New Right in Belgium who is close to the Nation
movement, also opposes any unconditional alliance with the Palestinians.
Violence and Vandalism
Belgium, unlike Germany, for example,
has no official body that collects statistics on antisemitic (or racist) acts nationally.
However, a number of anti-racist associations, such as Mouvement contre le
racisme, l’antisémitisme et la xénophobie (MRAX) and CECLR, and
Jewish community organizations, such as the Comité de coordination des
organisations juives de Belgique (CCOJB) in Antwerp and Forum der joodse
organisaties (FJO), record reports or complaints when an act against a Jewish
individual or Jewish property is committed.
Given this lack of overall statistics
for antisemitism in Belgium, it is difficult to determine quantitative
developments throughout the entire country. However, since 2000 the number of
violent anti-Jewish acts reported to these organizations has been rising
considerably. Moreover, there appears to be a correlation between this increase
and the anti-Israel atmosphere in Belgium.
According to CECLR’s criteria for
determining a violent antisemitic act (beatings and other forms of physical
violence against individuals, violent attacks on property, vandalism), 17 such
acts were committed in 2001 and over 25 from January to May 2002. Several
violent acts were committed in the months of May and June 2001. For example, on
10 June 2001 a group of young religious Jews in Antwerp was assaulted,
allegedly by youths of Arab origin. In addition, on 2 October 2001 the Beth Habad rabbi and his family were stoned and insulted as they were leaving the Forest
(Brussels) synagogue. Several other attacks took place in the next few days in
the vicinity of this synagogue. In another incident on 5 December 2001, Chief
Rabbi of Brussels Albert Guigui was assaulted as he was leaving the rue de la
Clinique synagogue in Anderlecht (a Brussels suburb), allegedly by youths of
North African origin. Synagogues were the target of Molotov cocktail attacks
and stone throwing. Other antisemitic incidents included anonymous phone
threats, sporadic graffiti and the distribution of pamphlets and chanting of antisemitic
slogans during anti-Israel demonstrations.
filed in respect of most of the examples quoted above, but no one was arrested.
In come cases, as noted above, the perpetrators appeared to be of North African/Arab
origin. Most took place in Antwerp and Brussels, where many members of the
Belgian Jewish community live. However, on 20–21 April 2002 a serious attack
was reported on the Charleroi synagogue (in the Wallonia region), where machine
gun fired raked its outside wall.
In the 1980s, Belgium became one of the main European hubs of Holocaust denial. Since
then a number of foreign Holocaust deniers (Olivier Mathieu, Vincent Reynouard and
others) have found refuge from prosecution in Belgium.
Protected by neo-Nazi organizations and a Christian fundamentalist community
close to the Fraternité Saint-Pie X, these Holocaust deniers contributed
to the rise of Belgian revisionism. Frenchman Robert Faurisson, a leading
Holocaust denier, used to make regular lecture visits to Belgium. Despite this support, in the early 1990s Holocaust denial
increasingly became a marginal phenomenon in Belgium,
including among the far right. For opportunist reasons and for reasons of
“political correctness,” ultra-right parliamentary parties dropped the
“revisionist cause.” Previously, several VB and Front national leaders had
expressed their support for Holocaust denial.
the anti-revisionist law was passed in 1995, a number of fundamentalist
Christian political and religious organizations continued (openly or covertly)
to defend “freedom of expression” for Holocaust deniers. These included the
Ordre des Chevaliers de Saint-Michel et de Saint-Georges, Nation, the Front
nouveau de Belgique, Contre/Thèses, the Nationalistisch
Jongstudenten Verbond and Blood & Honour – Vlaanderen. In February 2001,
Roeland Raes (vice-president of VB since its establishment in 1978) defended
Holocaust deniers to a Dutch TV station.
Vrij historisch onderzoek (VHO, known in French as Recherche libre historique) is the
only organization remaining in Belgium professing Holocaust denial as its raison
d’être. This antisemitic
splinter group, which came into being in 1984 in Antwerp
and calls for a return to Nazism, was broken up by the Belgian legal
authorities in February 2002, following a number of legal proceedings
(including a complaint by CECLR).
legal situation has not, however, prevented its leaders from continuing their
activities under other names. Today, the original VHO Internet site is run by
Castle Hill Publishers (an English revisionist network), with the support of
the North American CODOH. In April 2002, the French antisemitic magazine Rivarol
advertised the establishment of “Vision historique objectif,” whose initials –
by chance, as it were – happen to be VHO. The head of this new Belgian
organization is the French Holocaust denier Vincent Reynouard, who has been living
in Brussels since 2000. The previous month, he had
taken part in a “revisionist congress” in Flanders, organized with the backing of Blood
& Honour – Vlaanderen. Speakers at this meeting, organized for a limited
audience, included Bert Eriksson, who occupied a leading position in Flemish
neo-Nazism in the 1970s and 1980s, and VHO co-founder Siegfried Verbeke.
Concomitantly with the rise in
antisemitism in Belgium, racism, largely against immigrants from Arab/Muslim
countries (primarily Moroccans), has also increased. Forms of legal
discrimination, such as excess police checks and inappropriate administrative
procedures, as well as illegal discrimination (in job hiring, letting an
apartment, entry to places of entertainment) and other racist acts are the
daily experience of thousands of these immigrants in Belgium.
The platforms of
the far right parties openly advocate an “ethnic separation” policy. In the
wake of 11 September, a new anti-Islamic wave became evident. The VB, like the
francophone far right (Front national and Front nouveau de Belgique), took
advantage of this atmosphere to launch campaigns against the Arab/Muslim
communities, including violent acts such as a machine gun attack on a mosque.
responses to racism and antisemitism
As soon as events indicated the
emergence of a new upsurge of antisemitic
violence, a number of initiatives were immediately taken. The representative
body of Muslims in Belgium and its Jewish counterpart, the Consistoire
israélite de Belgique, issued a joint appeal condemning violence and antisemitism. In the wake of the
anti-American attacks of 11 September, CECLR issued an “Appeal for Mutual
Respect,” signed by the chairpersons of the democratic political parties.
Following the series of violent antisemitic acts culminating in the 1 April
2002 attack on the rue de la Clinique synagogue in Anderlecht (Brussels), the
federal Belgian government, under Minister for Equal Opportunity Laurette
Onkelinx, convened representatives from all walks of life to take part in a
common front against racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia. CECLR was
responsible for monitoring implementation of the front’s “action plan,” and in
September 2002 launched an Internet site outlining details of this plan. Anti-Arab/Muslim
remarks made by some members of the Jewish community were severely criticized
by other members. In May 2002, CECLR asked the Conseil supérieur de
l’audio-visuel (CSA – Audio-Visual Board) to obtain recordings of a number of
broadcasts made on Radio Judaïca, Belgium’s only Jewish community radio
station, following several complaints of (mainly Jewish) listeners concerning
racial and Islamophobic excesses.