Jews suffer surge of hate on streets of Belgium

ANTWERP- Dressed in the striking black mantles and shtreimel fur hats of the Hassidic Jews, Eli Fallick and his son stood out as targets for a gang of 20 Arab youths laying in wait.

The two were smashed to the ground on their way to the Belz synagogue in Antwerp, near the dividing line between the fast-growing Moroccan quarter and the Jootsewijk, where the city’s 12,000 orthodox Jews live.

They were kicked ferociously about the body and head as a chorus of teenage attackers spat at them, chanted “Dirty Jew” and praise to Hitler, the now-routine lexicon of abuse in Muslim street attacks.

“They went on and on kicking. I couldn’t believe what was happening to us,” said Mr Fallick, a diamond trader, speaking in a mixture of Yiddish and broken French.

“I’m absolutely sure we would have been done for if the police hadn’t arrived so quickly,” he said.

Mr Fallick was barely out of hospital a few days later when his 10-year-old daughter was assaulted on her way back from school.

She was slapped, punched and humiliated, but not injured. Now she must walk to and fro in a group with an escort, like any child in Antwerp who is visibly identifiable as Jewish.

The incidents are now so common that they rarely make it into the local press, though last weekend it was reported that the Maccabee sports centre on the outskirts of Antwerp had been vandalised for the fourth time this year. A group of Moroccan teenagers tore up the furniture and daubed swastikas on the walls.

This is eerily familiar to Pinhas Kornfeld, who escaped the Nazis as a child, living underground for three years in Vichy France.

He is one of only 1,200 Antwerp Jews to have survived the Holocaust and return to rebuild what was once been a great centre of Jewish enterprise. Another 27,000 were sent to the gas chambers.

“If we don’t stop this now, it is going to take a very dangerous turn, the sort of turn we haven’t seen for 60 years,” he said in his well-guarded offices at Antwerp’s Diamond Centre.

“It all begins when you start stigmatising groups. Hitler used to call the Jews ‘communists’ and Stalin called them ‘capitalists’: now they’re starting to call Jews ‘murderers’, which is a way of saying its OK to target them.”

Antwerp is not alone. The Anderlecht Synagogue in Brussels was attacked with Molotov cocktails last month; another in Charleroi was sprayed with gunfire; Jewish bookshops, butchers, and, above all, cemeteries are routinely vandalised – just statistics among the 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents reported since September 11, an average of 18 a day, with attacks on France’s 700,000 strong Jewish community topping the list.

Yesterday, Europe’s Jews began to protest, marching through Brussels to the European Parliament building waving Israeli flags. “We will never accept synagogues being set on fire in Europe, 55 years after Auschwitz,” said Michel Fridman, the German vice-president of the European Jewish Congress.

Typically, it is a spillover from the Palestinian intifada, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, creating a law and order crisis for bemused European governments that do not know how to deal with militant Muslim youths.

Antwerp’s Jews have no difficulties with the far-Right Vlaams Blok, the city’s biggest political party. Indeed, the Blok has actively courted Jewish support – with little success.

But the World Jewish Congress does blame politicians, journalists, and professors for tacit incitement to Jew-baiting, if only through the guise of attacking Israel.

In its latest policy statement, the WJC writes: “While most acts have been the work of Muslims, it is the European elites who have created an ambience in which anti-Semitism is no longer considered unacceptable in ‘polite society’.”

The statement adds that the universities have become the new “hotbeds” of anti-Semitism.


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