Amid reports of widespread fear among Belgian Jews of being attacked by anti-Semites, the chief rabbi of Brussels and other Jews declined over security concerns a public broadcaster’s request to film them walking on the street while wearing a kippa.
The RTBF broadcaster reported Thursday it wanted to film Chief Rabbi Albert Guigui, among other rabbis, wearing a kippa for a program about anti-Semitism.
But Guigui declined, telling the channel he has stopped visibly wearing a kippa in 2001 following an anti-Semitic assault on his person. In December of that year, Guigui was attacked by a group of Arabic speaking youths.
The Jewish community in Belgium, numbering approximately 40,000 and split mainly between Brussels and Antwerp, has suffered a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in recent years, especially in reaction to Israel’s conflict with Gaza last summer. Four people died after a radical Muslim carried out a shooting attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014.
“The government is doing all it can to give us a sense of security. Security personnel and soldiers are guarding our schools and synagogues,” Guigui told The Times of Israel in 2015. “It’s quiet now but anti-Semitism wakes up here when there are problems in Israel.”
Joel Rubinfeld, the president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA, agreed to wear his kippa on the street but only if RTBF provide a security detail, Bruzz reported.
In April in Berlin, a non-Jewish man wearing a kippa, or yarmulke, was assaulted by an attacker shouting “Jew!” in Arabic. The victim was an Israeli Arab who said he donned the kippa to test whether it had actually become dangerous to wear a yarmulke in Germany.
In 2016, a community leader in France, Tzvi Amar, warned Marseille Jews to avoid wearing kippas. And in 2014, a Danish Jewish school in Copenhagen urged its students to come to school wearing baseball caps over their yarmulkes.
At least a quarter of Europe’s Jews had resolved not to wear their kippas or any other Jewish symbol publicly before any of the debates even took place, according to a 2013 survey in nine countries.
In that European Union poll of 5,100 Jews — the most comprehensive study of its kind — 49 percent of 800 Swedish respondents said they refrained from wearing clothing that identified them as Jewish. In Belgium, whose capital city is the seat of the European Union, the figure was 36 percent.
Separately on Thursday, two pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted a concert in Brussels by an American orchestra bound for a performance in Israel and a Jewish pianist.
The concert Thursday by Hélène Grimaud, a well-known French pianist of Jewish ancestry, had to be paused as security escorted out of the hall two women who were chanting about “creating Palestine,” La Libre Belgique reported.
Grimaud was accompanied at the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles by the Philadelphia Orchestra, who are on a tour that includes several European countries and Israel.
The protesters did not say whether they were there over the orchestra’s plans to visit Israel or because of Grimaud — who headlined promotional material about the concert in Belgium.