BRUSSELS — A delegation of 25 Jewish community leaders met with Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and other top Belgian politicians in Brussels Monday to demand funds for increased security after a shooting attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium that claimed four on May 24.
World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder and Maurice Sosnowski, president of the Belgian Jewish umbrella organization CCOJB, along with a delegation of 23 other international Jewish leaders, addressed security and other Jewish community issues with the Belgian politicians.
“I will ask for three things: financial participation of the government toward protection of Jewish sites, measures against cyber-hate on a European level, and a reinforcement of education, notably about the Shoah,” said Sosnowski at a press conference ahead of the meeting.
Following the 90-minute meeting between the Belgian politicians and Jewish community leaders, the WJC sent out a press release stating, the government would push to set up a joint commission with the WJC and the Jewish community of Belgium tasked with identifying measures to improve security for the Jewish community, to fight growing hatred, including on the internet, to strengthen Holocaust education in schools and to facilitate the exchange of information.
No mention was made of increased funding for security.
Current Belgium legislation denies the government the authority to allocate funds for the Jewish community’s security. However, said Sosnowski, recent events should compel the government to amend the laws and alleviate the community’s “financial burden.”
Sosnowski requested the protection of Jewish sites, similar to the financial aid the English and French Jewish communities receive from their governments.
At the press conference, Jewish leaders discussed the impact the attack had on the Jewish community, the arrest of the suspected killer Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, and the lessons to be learned from the incidents.
“We have seen a rise of anti-Semitism around Europe and this is 70 years after WW II. The question is: why? Why anti-Semitism? Why is that a thing?” asked Lauder. The WJC president warned faith-based discrimination doesn’t only affect the Jewish community. “It’s not just a Jewish issue, it’s a Jewish-Christian issue,” he said, later adding that Muslims are also affected by “anti-Muslim” attitudes.
Lauder accused the world of staying silent in the face of atrocities committed against Christians in the Middle East. “Like in the 1930s, the world is quiet, you don’t read about what happened to them.”
Both Lauder and Sosnowski insisted security was essential, but said “the return to normalcy is the way forward.” Lauder applauded the community for overcoming their fear to get back to normal activities the day after the attack.
“What we don’t want is a whole generation of children growing up with fear. I think it’s interesting, that the next day after this incident, 98 percent of the children returned to Jewish schools, showing that they did not have the fear.”
The WJC and the CCOJB asked the government that changes be made to the manner in which the Holocaust and anti-Semitism were taught in schools. “Belgium has an opportunity now, with what happened, to revise what we teach our children,” said Lauder.
And while both Lauder and Sosnowski said there was a correlation between anti-Semitism in the Diaspora and anti-Zionism caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they reminded the public that “the source of anti-Semitism is ignorance.”
“There is no question that anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism are a new form of anti-Semitism,” said Sosnowski. But “if a peace treaty was signed tomorrow between Israel and the Palestinians, would anti-Semitism stop? I think you all know that the answer is no.”
After the press conference the delegation lit memorial candles outside the museum, recited the Kaddish and sang the Israeli national anthem.