Israel on Sunday blamed rising anti-Semitism for a Brussels shooting attack that killed four people, including two Israelis, lashing out at Europe for “hypocrisy” in its attitude to the Jewish state.
As officials confirmed the deaths of two Israelis, a French national and a Belgian man in Saturday’s attack on the Jewish museum in the Belgian capital, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to hail the visiting Pope Francis for his “determined stance” against anti-Semitism.
“We appreciate the pope’s determined stance against anti-Semitism, especially in light of the growing hatred of Jews that we are witness to in these days,” Netanyahu said, shortly before the pontiff’s arrival in Israel as part of a three-day Middle East tour. The pope, on arrival in Israel, condemned the “anti-Jewish” killing.
The Saturday afternoon shooting shocked Belgium and drew condemnation from top European leaders, although Brussels said it could not immediately confirm whether it was “a terrorist or anti-Semitic act.”
But Netanyahu said the attack was a result of “incessant incitement against Israel by different elements in the Middle East and Europe itself,” denouncing the latter for what he said was a hypocritical attitude to Israel.
“There are elements in Europe that rush to condemn the construction of a flat in Jerusalem but who do not rush to condemn, or offer only a weak condemnation of the murder of Jews here or in Europe itself,” he said, referring to Israel’s ongoing settlement construction in the West Bank and in annexed east Jerusalem.
“Even worse, they applaud unity with terror groups like Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel,” he said.
The premier was referring to Europe’s welcome of an intra-Palestinian reconciliation agreement between leaders in the West Bank and the Islamist rulers of Gaza.
“We oppose this hypocrisy; we defy it,” he said.
However, he praised Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who telephoned to express condolences and update the Israeli leader on the investigation.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked the Belgian prime minister for his call and offered to help with the murder enquiry,” his office said.
“Until now, you are the only European leader to call me about this matter,” Netanyahu told Di Rupo.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, General Director of the European Jewish Association, thanked the European leaders who had condemned the attack for their remarks, but stressed that “condemnation after a predictable attack is nothing but a way to cleanse one’s conscience.”
“There is a need to establish a pan-European taskforce in order to annihilate anti-Semitism,” he said in a statement.
The two Israelis killed in the deadly attack were identified late Sunday morning as Tel Aviv residents Mira and Emmanuel Riva, who were on an organized, private walking tour of Brussels when the shooting took place.
Authorities have notified their family, and the Foreign Ministry said it was in contact with local police and that their bodies would be flown to Israel for burial as soon as they were no longer required by the investigation. Emmanuel was 54 and Mira was 53. They have two teenage daughters.
“We have confidence in the Belgian authorities, in the justice system and the police to look into this horrible crime,” foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
The attack, which took place in central Brussels, left a fourth person, whose identity was not yet clear, in critical condition.
President Shimon Peres also called upon European leaders to act against “any form of anti-Semitism” which he said was “rearing its head across the continent”.
He also spoke with the Jewish leadership in Belgium.
It was the first fatal attack on a Belgian Jewish center since the early 1980s in a country which is home to 40,000 Jews, roughly half of whom live in the capital.