Belgium’s ex-PM accused of anti-Semitism for ‘Antwerp diamond dealers’ crack
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Belgium’s ex-PM accused of anti-Semitism for ‘Antwerp diamond dealers’ crack

Elio di Rupo uses phrase many see as a disparaging reference to the city's sizable Jewish population

Belgium's then-prime minister Elio Di Rupo attends the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, March 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Freek van den Bergh, Pool)
Belgium's then-prime minister Elio Di Rupo attends the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, March 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Freek van den Bergh, Pool)

Belgium’s previous prime minister faced accusations of anti-Semitism after complaining in an interview that the kingdom has become a country “of Antwerp diamond dealers.”

Elio di Rupo, a socialist politician who serves as Belgium’s prime minister from 2011 to 2014, was accused of dog whistling in an interview published Friday in the L’Echo newspaper.

“Belgium cannot be governed the way it is today: solely for the richest and most powerful,” Di Rupo said. “It’s a Belgium of Antwerp diamond dealers that we have today when we need a much more pluralistic Belgium. It’s an unapologetic right-wing policy that presumes to know everything, but is belied by statistics.”

The diamond district of the Belgian city of Antwerp for decades was dominated by Jews. However, since the 1980s, Jewish traders have gradually been replaced by south Asians, who now are believed to outnumber the Jews.

In an editorial op-ed on the news site Juif, the writer accused di Rupo of dog whistling about Jews. But even if this was not his intention, the writer continued, “he could have said what he wanted to say differently instead of pouring oil on the fire of a certain kind of anti-Semitism.” The op-ed originally appeared on the blog “Philosemitism.”

Di Rupo did not immediately reply to JTA’s request for a reaction.

Antwerp's Jewish district has something of the feel of a modern shtetl. (Ben Harris/JTA)
Illustrative: Antwerp’s Jewish district (JTA/Ben Harris)

Di Rupo in 2015 came under scathing criticism by Jews when he wrote on Twitter: “I am Charlie, I am Jewish, I am Palestinian” following the murder of four Jews in Paris by an Islamist who cited Israel’s actions as his motivation for the murders.

Di Rupo’s comments about diamond dealers come amid a debate in Belgium over the awarding of an honorary doctorate by a Brussels university to a film director who dismissed  claims of anti-Semitism in Britain’s Labour party as “dirty tricks.”

Ken Loach, who supports the attempt to boycott Israel who has likened Israel’s actions to those Nazi Germany, received the honor last week from Free University of Brussels despite opposition to it by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, according to the RTBF broadcaster.

Earlier this month, Loach demanded that lawmakers from Labour who demonstrated against anti-Semitism in London’s Parliament Square be kicked out of the party.

“You cannot work with people who have come to undermine the biggest challenge we’ve had — we’ve never had a leader like Corbyn before in the whole history of the Labour Party… and that’s why the dirty tricks are going to come out.”

Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015. He has called Hamas an organization “dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about peace and social justice and political justice.” He’s called that group and Hezbollah his “friends.”

Corbyn’s critics say he is responsible for a proliferation of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the ranks of Labour, which saw thousands of his supporters join. In 2016 he was accused of being soft on anti-Semitism last year by an inter-parliamentary committee of inquiry on the problem, which included Labour members.

Asked about Holocaust denial by Corbyn supporter, Loach in 2017 said: “I think history is for all of us to discuss. The founding of the state of Israel, for example, based on ethnic cleansing, is there for us all to discuss, so don’t try and subvert that by false stories of anti-Semitism.”

He later said he does not question the historical record on the Holocaust.

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