Monday, May 11, 2009

Belgium breeding antisemitism 

Watchdog group says anti-Semitism skyrocketing in Belgium

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz Correspondent

Anti-Semitic attacks have skyrocketed in Belgium in 2009, according to a local government watchdog. The agency's director compared the hike to "the anti-Muslim hate campaign after 9/11."

The Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism last week said that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the first four months of 2009 has equaled the number of such incidents recorded in the whole of 2008.

According to Jozef De Witte, director of the government agency, which is under the direct responsibility of Belgium's prime minister, the hike owes to the Middle East conflict between Israel and some of its enemies.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Centre recorded around 60 anti-Semitic incidents every year. The same number of incidents was recorded in the first four months of this year. Incidents include violent attacks but also hate-mail. About one third of the incidents are hate-mails. The remaining two thirds are hecklings or physical abuses.

A few cases are of severe violence. The perpetrators mostly belong to Muslim groups, but also to extreme right organizations and persons.

The impact of what de Witte defined as "the conflict between Israel and Palestine" is according to the director "comparable with the hate-campaign against Muslims in Belgium" which followed the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. This statement irked some Belgian Jews.

"The two realities are incomparable," said David Lowy, founder of the JOBI group for Belgian youth in Israel. "There were some deplorable attacks against Muslims after 9/11 by extreme rightists, but mosques were not lit on fire as synagogues had been in January. Muslims were not threatened on the street."

Lowy noted that the attack in 9/11 was perpetrated in Islam's name, while Israel's invasion into Gaza was "in self-defense, unconnected to Belgian Jewery." He also remarked that no Belgian Jew or Belgian American attacked any Muslim after 9/11. "The same cannot be said about Belgian Muslims during Operation Cast Lead."

The Middle East conflict, de Witte said, is "a dormant issue which could still erupt and add new worries in the form a new wave of incidents under the mandate of the Centre." The Centre has commissioned a new report designed to delineate the manner in which the Middle East conflict is affecting racism in Belgium.


Belgian opera shows Jew raping woman in anti-Israel piece

By Cnaan Liphshiz

By portraying a religious Jew raping a woman in a show about Israel, the state-funded Flanders Opera is in danger of encouraging anti-Semitic stereotypes, leading members from Belgium's Jewish community told Haaretz.

The highly-controversial scene appeared in the premier of "Samson and Delilah" in Antwerp on Tuesday evening. The contested show was created by two Israelis, who turned the biblical tale of Samson into a reverse-role protest against Israel's occupation of Palestinians.

Belgium's Jewish community has condemned the opera directed by Omri Nitzan and Amir Nizar Zuabi for dressing Philistine conquerors in Western garb while Hebrew fighters like Samson wear Arab clothes.

The rape scene shows a Philistine religious priest dressed up as a religious Jew while raping Delilah, who was Samson's lover. The rapist was the only man in the show wearing a skull cap. The Flanders Opera could not be reached for a comment.

Samson lived in the 11th century BCE as a partisan under occupation of the Philistines - a powerful and technologically-advanced people of European roots. The Bible says he died at the hands of his occupiers, while killing many of his captors. This, according to the opera's creators, makes him "the world's first shaheed," or martyr.

"From conversation with the creators, I gather the rape scene was meant to protest religious coercion inside Israel," said Michael Freilich, editor-in-chief of the Dutch-language Jewish affairs newspaper Joods Actueel. "But most people in Belgium don't make such distinctions. To them a man wearing a skull cap in a show about Israel is a Jewish Israeli."

Another image from the show showed occupying soldiers clad in black combat suits and armed with M-16 assault rifles stroking the weapons while placing them horizontally against their crotches.

Israel's ambassador to Belgium, Tamar Samash, was invited to the event but eventually canceled. Sources involved with the embassy's work in Belgium said the ambassador felt it was "inappropriate" for her to attend on Tuedsay night, the eve of Israel's 61st anniversary.

"I have not seen the show so I would rather not comment on the specifics," Eli Ringer, vice-chairman of the forum of Jewish Organizations of Belgium, told Haaretz. "But I gather it portrayed a man wearing a skull cap in the ugliest way possible and of course this is not helpful to combat anti-Semitism."

Ringer also said that he is concerned about the use of holy scriptures to promote political causes. "History tells us this is not a good idea," he said. A number of members of Jewish organizations attended the premier to report on it. They said the production provoked members of the crowd to boo the cast at certain points. This was confirmed by Dutch radio. The Jewish onlookers said the jeers did not come from the delegation.

Meanwhile, most Belgian media offered negative criticism of the opera on artistic grounds rather than ideological ones. "If you go to the opera, close your eyes because the music is wonderful," one critic wrote.

Another connoisseur said the role reversal is too complicated to follow because the original text of the opera was not changed to fit it. "Imagine seeing a production of Little Red Riding Hood where a wolf who is dressed up like a little girl meets another little girl while he is on his way to visit her granny," the opera-lover said.


Flemish Jews irked by state-funded `anti-Israel` Samson opera

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haarez Correspondent

Prominent figures from the Jewish community in Belgium and Israel have harshly criticized the Flemish Opera for staging what they regard as an anti-Israeli, political event disguised as a première. The contested show was created by two Israelis.

The production of Samson and Delilah is scheduled to premiere Tuesday, along with a political debate. The community has condemned the opera directed by Omri Nitzan and Amir Nizar Zuabi - for dressing the Philistine conquerors in Western clothing while Hebrew fighters like Samson wear Arab clothes.

Samson, who lived in the 11th century BCE, was a partisan living under occupation of the Philistines a powerful and technologically-advanced people of European roots. The bible says he died in Philistine hands while killing many of his captors.

Zuabi and Nitzan's reverse-role adaptation of his love story with a Philistine woman leads Samson to become "history's first shaheed" (or martyr, in the Islamic tradition), the say. "Samson is a shaheed, and Delilah is his lover from the enemy camp," the directors explained.

"This isn't the first time public Flemish culture institutions stage unabashedly anti-Israel events," David Lowy, founder of the JOBI group for Belgian youth in Israel, told Haaretz. "Israel is misunderstood in Belgium and distorting bible stories will only compound this. The analogy's ludicrous and state-funded bodies mustn't help it."

Guido Joris from the Dutch-language Jewish-affairs newspaper Joods Actueel condemned the event's political character, and a planned screening of a film calling Israel's 2002 military operation in the West Bank a "blood bath" at the event.

The paper also criticized the involvement of a state-funded institution in the show. "I imagine we are in store for Israeli flags burned, as we've seen in the past in Belgium," Joris said.

Nitzan insists that the opera's political messages are not an attempt to jump on Europe's pro-Palestinian bandwagon. A spokesperson from Flanders Opera said his institution isn't anti-Israeli and that the criticism is "premature," adding: "We may argue about the Mideast conflict, but there will be no flag burning."


Belgium to stop exporting 'arms that bolster the IDF' to Israel

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Belgium's government has agreed to ban the export to Israel of weapons that "strengthen it militarily," a Belgian minister said on Thursday. A Brussels-based research group accused Israel of enlisting child soldiers.

The Belgian daily De Morgen quotes Minister Patricia Ceysens from the Flemish regional government as saying: "There's a consensus [among ministers] not to approve exports that would strengthen Israel's military capacity."

Ceysens said this after a discussion on policy regarding weapons exports to Israel following the operation in Gaza. A final resolution has not been passed yet, but Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht already said recently that "given the current circumstances, weapons cannot be shipped from Belgium to Israel."

According to a recently-released report by the European Institute for Research and Information on Peace and Security on Belgian arms exports to the Jewish state, Israel is the fourth largest importer of Belgian arms in the Middle East. In 2007, Belgium sold Israel weapons (mostly light firearms) to the tune of $5,409,223, according to the report.

The report, which accuses Israel of human rights violations, also says that Belgium's major weapons clients in the Middle East are Saudi Arabia (69 percent), Jordan (17 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (4.2 percent). The 15-page report does not deal with human rights violation in those countries.

Quoting a 2003 amendment to Belgian law which forbids the sale of weapons to armies with child soldiers, the report says that Israel "accepts and arms underage volunteers." Further on, the report mentions "use of underage Palestinians as informants and sometimes human shields."

The Israeli Defense Forces' Gadna program runs a one-week military training session on a base as part of the curriculum at most Israeli high schools. The army accepts volunteers from the age of 17 into non-combat posts.

Meanwhile, 13 Belgian politicians, authors and scholars released a statement that calls for a more evenhanded approach to Israel.


Report: Belgian court petitioned to arrest Livni upon arrival in Brussels

By Barak Ravid and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents

European attorneys have reportedly petitioned a Belgian court to arrest Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni upon her arrival in Brussels later Wednesday, according to the Jawalan.com Web Site.

The complaints was apparently lodged on behalf of Belgian and French nationals with relatives who were either wounded or killed in Gaza, and calls for Livni to be arrested for war crimes.

The Foreign Ministry is looking into the report and the Israeli embassy in Brussels has not yet been involved in the matter, sources said.

Belgian law does not actually allow the arrest of a foreign official with high standing, but the matter could bring embarrassment to Israel and may represent the first in a string of lawsuits now being prepared by pro-Palestinian elements around the world.

Israeli human rights activists: Arrest Olmert, Livni, and Barak for war crimes

Meanwhile, anonymous self-described Israeli human rights activists have set up an Internet site detailing alleged war crimes committed by senior government officials and Israel Defense Forces officers.

No known human rights organization is behind the site, whose founders refuse to give their names.

The site, www.wanted.org.il, includes "arrest orders," complete with pictures and personal details, for Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert,Livni, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and his two predecessors, Dan Halutz and Moshe Ya'alon, former air force commander Eliezer Shkedy and others.

It also explains how to inform the International Criminal Court in The Hague of when the "suspects" are outside Israel, and hence vulnerable to arrest.

The "arrest order" for Barak, for instance, states: "On December 27, 2008, the suspect ordered an aerial assault on all of Gaza's population centers.

The assault included hundreds of sorties by fighter jets that dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on residential areas of Gaza, which led to the deaths of 1,200 people - men, women and children.

Some 5,300 people were wounded and hundreds of thousands became refugees. On December 10, 2008, a formal complaint was filed against Ehud Barak to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Holland ... on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity because of the siege of Gaza."


Jewish groups blast Belgian TV for comic's Holocaust jokes

By The Associated Press

Jewish groups have condemned a Belgian public broadcaster for airing a show in which a standup comedian jokes about the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews.

The protest marked the third time in two months the VRT broadcaster was
accused of gross insensitivity toward Jews. On October 27, protests forced it to scrap a TV show about Adolf Hitler's supposed favorite dish - alpine trout in butter sauce - as part of a series about famous people's favorite foods.

In the 2008 review show Het Besluit - which aired December 21 and is available on the VRT web site - comedian Philippe Geubels accused Belgians Jews of overreacting to the food show.

"What are they going to do if there is a big gas leak in Antwerp?" asked Geubels referring to the Belgian port city, which has a large Jewish community. "Take the city to court for provocation? Preemptively file charges against anyone who dares joke about that?"

Geubels also said the Holocaust cannot happen again because Jews are much
smarter now.

"They have spread across the world. Try rounding them up! Most are in America so you cannot send them by train to Germany to die in gas chambers."

"What a comedian does is up to him, but the VRT decides to include it in the show. At that point, the question can be asked, is this the task of a public broadcaster?" asked Michael Freilich, the head of the Jewish group Joods Actueel.

The VRT also came under criticism for a recent ad about a travel show focusing on Berlin.

It showed a drawing of Hitler as a male stripper giving the Nazi salute in front of a swastika flag, the banner of Nazi Germany. That incident triggered a protest by the German embassy, which called it totally tasteless.

The CCOJB, a Jewish umbrella organization, said the VRT's multiplication of anti-Semitic provocations disguised as humor dishonored its role as a public broadcaster.

It said it planned legal steps against the VRT and asked the government of Dutch-speaking Belgium, which is responsible for the VRT, to act against those responsible for the broadcast.

Repeated phone calls and two messages left with the VRT were not immediately answered.

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