Manfred Gerstenfeld’s most recent book “Demonizing Israel and the Jews documents evidence of the depressingly high levels of European anti-Semitism, highlighting the frequent employment of Holocaust inversion as a vehicle to incite Jew hatred. He notes that opinion polls indicate that nearly half of all European adults – close to 150 million – are today convinced that Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians.
This trend was corroborated in a recent report (published by the Gladstone Institute) exposing an outrageous situation in Belgium, the country of my birth and thus struck a sensitive personal chord. Had my parents not immigrated to Australia on the eve of the war, they could have suffered the same fate as many members of my family who were amongst the 50% of the prewar Belgian Jewish community deported with the active assistance of the state bureaucracy and collaborators, and murdered in Auschwitz.
The report described an extraordinary Belgian primer for teachers of “Holocaust Remembrance” which appeared on the official central Flanders educational website database. Endorsed and funded by the Ministry of Education, the template designed for teachers of 6-12 year olds shamelessly promoted hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism by employing the crudest forms of Holocaust inversion.
It even reproduced a cartoon which had initially appeared in 2009 at the notorious Teheran Holocaust Denial conference, depicting a Jewish concentration camp inmate impaled on barbed wire in the form of a swastika. Entitled “Never Again”, it was accompanied by a caricature of an Arab in the same position titled “Over Again”. The message conveyed is crystal clear – Israelis, descendants of Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, are treating the Arabs in the same manner as the Nazis treated their forbears.
The caricature was produced by Carlos Latuff, a Brazilian of Lebanese origin, notorious for his creations of other obscene anti-Israeli caricatures bracketing Israelis with Nazis. One of his most outrageous recent works was an ugly distortion of the well-known poignant image of the young Jewish boy during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with his caption: “I am a Palestinian”. He has also depicted the Israeli Prime Minister as a vampire with blood dripping from his fangs.
There were other ‘lessons’ on the Belgian website presenting Israelis as bloodthirsty murderers. One included a “play” in which children would adopt the role of Palestinians or Hamas supporters and represent the good people whilst those assuming the roles of Israelis would epitomize the evil tyrants.
The leading Antwerp Jewish monthly, Joods Actueel, described this “history lesson” as a perversion and accused the authors of transforming educational material “into an instrument to infect youngsters with hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism”. It is utterly unconscionable and evil for the Belgian Ministry of Education to endorse a website designed as a schoolteacher’s guide to the Holocaust, which effectively promotes the same hatred that paved the way for the Shoa.
Such behavior is in breach of the resolutions adopted condemning and defining anti-Semitism at the OSCE – to which Belgium is a signatory.
The protests generated following media exposure of this abomination obliged the Belgian authorities to withdraw some of the offending material from the website. But this episode is merely a symptom of the problem. The reality is that frenzied hatred against Israel has today become an endemic component of political discourse in Brussels, the official capital of Europe and headquarters of NATO.
This must be viewed in the broader context of anti-Semitism in Belgium. There are approximately 40,000 Jews in Belgium, more than half residing in Antwerp.
The Muslim population has significantly increased and now represents a powerful electoral force. In the capital, Brussels, where the most popular baby name is Mohammed, Moslems today comprise 30% of the electorate. It is predicted that by 2020 they will amount to 10% of the entire population. They are the major new element contributing towards the exponential growth and saturation of society with rabid anti-Semitism.
Hatred of Jews is usually but not exclusively manifested as anti-Israelism. The Jewish community has been under increasing pressure and last year, anti-Semitic incidents, including desecration and vandalism of Jewish institutions as well as violence directed against Jews, rose steeply by 30%.
The anti-Jewish climate and violence against Jews is particularly intense in Antwerp where 50% of schoolchildren choose Islamic studies. But there are also reports of some Jewish schoolchildren in Brussels experiencing such excessive levels of anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation that they were obliged to leave their state school.
A few months ago there was extensive media exposure in Belgium highlighting the inaction and cynicism of the Antwerp police in relation to a violent anti-Semitic incident in which thugs assaulted their neighbors (one of whom was hospitalized), called them “stinking Jews” and threatened them with “finishing what the Nazi started”.
According to the JTA, last week the leading Belgian daily De Standaard, resurrected the medieval anti-Semitic blood libel alleging that Israeli settlers poison Palestinian water wells.
These trends are also reflected at the political level. Two years ago, Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck of the ruling Christian Democratic Party even supported an amnesty for Nazi collaborators suggesting that the country should “maybe also forget because this is in the past”. Karel de Grucht, Belgium’s former Foreign Minister and European Commissioner for Trade, is regarded as a avid anti-Semite.
It is not surprising that in a climate in which Jews are treated like pariahs, a large proportion of the community is sadly resigned to the fact that there is no future for a meaningful Jewish life for their children in Belgium. Increasing numbers, especially younger people, have or are planning to settle in Israel.
Yet the Belgian Jewish communal umbrella body, from which the more committed Jewish and Zionist Antwerp Jews have seceded, has sought to defuse hostility against Jews by groveling to the political establishment and distancing itself from Israel. At one stage it even honored a politician who had equated Zionism with racism.
Admittedly, the burgeoning levels of anti-Semitism and the application of double standards against Israel are not unique to Belgium and prevail in varying degrees in most European countries.
But it is the ultimate in hypocrisy for a country whose former leaders were responsible for the genocide in which millions of Congolese were murdered, to engage in Holocaust inversion. In particular to behave in this manner and yet remain silent at the cruel ongoing civil war of barbaric proportions with over 120,000 deaths, taking place only a few minutes drive from Israeli borders.
Isi Leibler is a veteran international Jewish leader with a distinguished record of contributions to the Jewish world and the cause of human rights