JTA — Belgian Jewish groups welcomed the decision by their country’s foreign ministry to freeze funding for Palestinian schools following the renaming of a recipient institution for a terrorist who killed Jewish civilians.
Tuesday’s move, which the Forum of Jewish Organizations of Belgium’s Flemish Region said was “the right thing to do,” was announced in a government statement that was unusual for the seniority of the undersigned: federal vice prime ministers Didier Reynders and Alexander De Croo.
“Belgium has suspended two ongoing projects, totaling 3.3 million euros, of construction of Palestinian schools,” the statement read. “The Belgian government unequivocally condemns any glorification of a terrorist attack. Belgium will not allow itself to be associated in any manner to the names of terrorists.”
The reaction, which is unusually harsh compared to the Belgian foreign ministry’s handling in the past of complaints about misuse of aid funds by the Palestinian Authority, followed the renaming sometime after 2013 of a school built in Hebron with Belgian money. Originally called Beit Awwa Elementary School for Girls at the time of its inauguration in 2013, it was renamed for Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist who in 1978, in a bus hijacking together with 12 accomplices, killed 38 civilians, including 13 children.
The renaming was done without the Belgian government’s knowledge, the statement said. The Belgian government has asked the Palestinian Authority to receive clarifications over the renaming. The frozen aid money, equivalent to $3.8 million, will be put on hold pending talks.
“We have a government that increasingly has been showing sensitivity to these issues,” Yohan Benizri, president of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations, told JTA Wednesday. Whereas Belgium has not changed its policy of supporting the two-state solution and opposing Israeli actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians, Benizri added, “there is a push for more balance in the relationship and a push that is heard also by the foreign ministry” headed by Didier Reynders.
The move shows a sincere sensitivity in Brussels to making sure taxpayers’ money does not fund terrorism, Benizri said, adding the freeze shows “there is no more sweeping under the carpet.”
The Palestinian mission in Brussels declined to comment on the matter when contacted by the French news agency AFP. Palestinian officials have resisted calls by United Nations leaders to change the name of a UN-funded community center named for Mughrabi.
This intransigence, Benizri said, reflects concerns by Palestinian officials of creating a precedent that would require further changes to Ramallah’s celebration of terrorists, including in textbooks that are produced with international aid money and that currently are under review.