Unia worried about anti-Semitism in Belgium
Unia will today again press in anti-Semitism hearings in the Belgian Senate for the reintroduction of an anti-Semitism watchdog. The organisation will further ask Minister Kris Peeters, now responsible for Equal Opportunities, to take the first steps towards an inter-federal action plan against discrimination and racism. Anti-Semitism remains a persistent problem. The calls being made by Unia are in response to a large-scale survey of 16,000 Jews in twelve EU countries by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), a human rights agency of the EU.
The many graphs contained in the report reveal a sobering picture of Belgium. Except for France, Jews do not experience anywhere in the EU as much hostility on the streets as they do in Belgium. Among those surveyed, 81 percent mentioned public spaces as the place with the most hatred of Jews. The European average is about 70 percent. “These are figures that require a structural approach in the form of a vigilance unit and a plan that overarches policy areas,' stressed Unia director Els Keytsman.
“Anti-Semitism has many faces,” Keytsman says. "Different forms of Jew-hatred exist alongside each other, we also see that at Unia. They are forms rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also forms that stem from the extreme right. We further see a sort of 'everyday anti-Semitism' in the form of stereotypes and everything that has to do with negationism”.
The polarising zeitgeist makes people far more inclined to berate or hurl racist abuse at each other. “Muslims are then a target, but also Jews. Serious incidents are today fortunately punishable by law. For example, in 2018 Unia was a civil party in the case against the vandal who caused serious damage in the Jewish quarter of Antwerp. Unia was also a civil party in the case concerning the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels.”
Tip of iceberg
The level of reporting of anti-Semitism is low throughout Europe: people do not quickly report incidents. Belgium is no exception as regards this trend. “This ‘tip of the iceberg’ phenomenon also occurs among other groups. On the one hand, this has to do with mistrust and on the other with victims who find racism so normal that they no longer react to it. Unia regularly meets with Jewish organisations to keep a finger on the pulse.”
It is clear that there is still a long way to go. “Fortunately, Unia has also received positive signals from another study,” says Keytsman. “When people were asked if they would accept a Jew as a relative, 94 percent of Belgians found it no problem. The PEW Research Centre published these results in spring”.
European civil servant victim of anti-Semitic attack: perpetrator convicted
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.
Unia welcomes conviction for vandalism in Jewish district
Unia welcomes the conviction by the Antwerp criminal court of the man who plagued the Jewish district. Unia believed there was a clear hatred motive behind his actions, which is why it joined the action as a civil claimant. Unia regularly draws attention to the need to investigate cases of anti-Semitism or holocaust denial.
Conviction for administrator of Facebook page of ‘Vlaamse Verdedigings Liga’
The administrator of the Facebook page of the Vlaamse Verdedigings Liga [Flemish Defence League] has received a ten months’ suspended sentence. According to the Antwerp court he incited his followers to racism. Unia was a civil party.
More employment discrimination cases reported to Unia in 2017
Last year Unia opened a total of 2,017 cases of situations where people felt they were the subject of discrimination. This represents a 6% increase over 2016 (1,907 cases). Instances of employment discrimination were the most frequently opened cases at Unia.