European civil servant victim of anti-Semitic attack: perpetrator convicted

8 October 2018
Area of action: Society
Grounds of discrimination: Racism

The Brussels Criminal Court ruled in favour of Unia and a European civil servant, declaring that the anti-Semitic hate speech and assault were aggravating circumstances. The incident was described as ‘serious and unacceptable’. Unia director Els Keytsman is concerned about the verbal abuse and threats against the Jewish community in Belgium.

The incident occurred in July 2015. At an outdoor cafe in the European quarter, a female civil servant working for the European Union felt she had to respond to a fellow civil servant carrying a plaque bearing the name Mussolini. The man launched into a foulmouthed tirade, saying that it was unfortunate ‘that Hitler didn't finish the job’.    

The woman in question reminded him that both Hitler and Mussolini were dictators and criminals. At that point he berated her with anti-Semitic comments and struck the woman in the face. The incident was witnessed by at least one person. 

After the victim contacted Unia, we decided to act as a party to a civil lawsuit concerning the case.

In September, the Criminal Court also ruled that the incident involved hate speech, violence and discrimination, and that hatred and hostility towards Jewish people had effectively been expressed. The judge suspended the man's sentence, on the condition that he seek counselling for his alcohol consumption. He will also be required to take a course on antidiscrimination and equal opportunities and must pay the victim damages of € 500.   

For Unia, it was an important signal. ‘The judge referred to serious and unacceptable acts, especially as the perpetrator was a European civil servant who should set an example for respect for diversity and for the law.’

Although Unia does not frequently handle cases of Jewish people experiencing discrimination on the job market or housing market, Keytsman is concerned about the anti-Semitic verbal abuse and threats. ‘Moreover, we are seeing anti-Semitism in all strata of society. That is why dialogue and forging understanding between different groups needs to be encouraged.’     

Finally, Keytsman emphasised that anti-Semitism and negationism are mainly propagated online via websites, blogs, e-mails or discussion forums, and above all, via social media. ‘We are seeing open Online anti-Semitism, full of stereotypes and denigrating remarks, or surfers are referred to websites full of negationist content.’    

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