Belgium’s federal parliament welcomed its first Orthodox Jewish lawmaker, the former editor-in-chief of a major Jewish newspaper.
Michael Freilich, 38, who had edited the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel monthly for 12 years before entering politics last year, entered parliament following Sunday’s federal elections. Number 5 on the ticket of the New Flemish Alliance party, Freilich is also the first “observant Jew” ever to serve in the federal parliament, Joods Actueel reported.
Freilich, who has vowed to work in parliament to reverse this year’s de facto ban on producing halal and kosher meat in two of Belgium’s three states, will serve there along with many new representatives of Belgium’s far-right Flemish Interest party.
It has more than tripled its electorate, emerging as the country’s second largest in Sunday’s federal elections. Some of the gains seem to be at the expense of Freilich’s center-right party, which came out largest in the elections with 25 seats despite losing eight.
The Flemish Interest party, whose founders included collaborators with Nazi Germany and whose lawmakers have a rich history of anti-Semitism, won about 15 percent of the national vote – its best result ever. It had fewer than four percent in the 2014 elections.
Bart de Wever, the leader of the New Flemish Alliance, hinted he would be open to cooperating with Flemish Interest, which is shunned by other parties.
Freilich told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency he believes that leaving this option open is “clever.”