November 1, 2023
The Jewish community in Antwerp has felt unsafe since the escalation of the conflict between Hamas and Israel. The Shmira surveillance service, which monitors safety in the neighborhood, notices this in the increasing number of reports of physical and verbal assault.
Since Hamas’s attack on Israel more than three weeks ago, the government has taken into account an increase in both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in our country. The equal opportunities center Unia keeps the government informed weekly of the information it receives. The organization knows from the past that escalations of the conflict in the Gaza Strip also lead to nervousness among us.
In the first two weeks of the conflict, Unia received 19 reports of anti-Semitism. Normally the center receives about five reports every month. So there is an increase, but according to Unia the numbers are too limited to draw meaningful conclusions. The reports are also diverse and sometimes also concern messages of support from public figures that have disturbed an audience member.
Aggression on the street
The Jewish internal surveillance service Shmira, which actively monitors safety in the Jewish neighborhood in Antwerp with volunteers, has been receiving more worried calls than usual since the escalation of violence in the Middle East. Since October 7, 231 reports have been received from people who felt unsafe in the neighborhood.
“There were five reports of people who faced physical violence on the street because they were Jewish,” said a Shmira spokesperson. ‘A schoolchild was pushed and fell off his bike, someone else was kicked in the stomach.’
The other reports concern verbal aggression (100) or what the Shmira itself describes as provocative behavior (126). ‘By verbal aggression we mean all statements that may be punishable, such as death threats. By provocative behavior we mean statements that are not prohibited in themselves, but that still make Jewish people feel worried. Think of someone shouting ‘free Palestine’ at Jewish passers-by.’
Finally, there were more than 150 reports of online hate and threats. ‘Sometimes it concerns comments that refer to the Jewish quarter, but it also happens that people from the Jewish community receive personal threats via private messages or voice notes. That also worries us.’
The incidents fuel concern among Jews in Antwerp. The Shmira passes on all reports to the local police. She investigates it.
Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA) promised to deploy extra police in the Jewish neighborhood as long as necessary. To ensure that the Antwerp police force can free up enough people for this, Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) granted an exemption from the order to send police officers to other zones who request help. The capacity that could normally go there can therefore be used for the security of the Jewish community.
Former PS minister Labille under fire for ‘anti-Semitic cartoon’
Jean-Pascal Labille, the French-speaking boss of the socialist mutual funds Solidaris and ex-PS minister, is being criticized for sharing a controversial cartoon about the conflict in the Middle East. The picture shows Israeli soldiers shooting into a Palestinian barrel with a Star of David on it, which slowly fades into a swastika. The United States and the European Union are watching from a distance.
The French-speaking liberals find the cartoon inappropriate. MR chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez calls it an ‘anti-Semitic crime’ and demands Labille’s resignation. “This behavior legitimizes Hamas’ terrorist acts,” he said.
Labille has since apologized to X. “I didn’t want to generalize and I condemn any form of anti-Semitism,” he says. ‘My first intention was to address the inaction of the international community.’