Since the escalation of the war between Israel and Hamas, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Flanders has increased. For example, Shmira, a Jewish organization that monitors security, has received 231 reports since the Hamas attack on October 7, mainly from Antwerp. “In a normal month there are about sixty. There is a feeling of insecurity within the Jewish community,” says a volunteer who wishes to remain anonymous.
For example, in Antwerp a Jewish boy was pushed off his bicycle, someone was pushed in a supermarket and a couple was physically attacked at the Ypres station. “We counted five cases of physical aggression in recent weeks and that is five too many,” Shmira said. In addition, there are also 100 reports of verbal aggression. “There has also been an increase in provocative behavior, such as shouting political slogans at children. That’s intimidating. And of course there is a huge amount of anti-Semitism online, from people finding threats in their mailbox to hateful comments on social media.” Shmira, for example, counted 150 complaints. “We will pass them all on to the police.”
It is also a factor that the rise of anti-Semitism elsewhere in Europe is causing concern. For example, a fire was set in the Jewish section of Vienna’s central cemetery on Saturday, and in Paris buildings were defaced with Stars of David. In Germany, demonstrations against anti-Semitism took place earlier this month after an attempt to set fire to a synagogue in Berlin. There too, homes of Jewish people were defaced with Stars of David.
Equal opportunities center Unia has received reports about the war between Israel and Hamas in the past twenty days, but these are not purely anti-Semitic incidents. Many more people are also knocking on the door of the League against Anti-Semitism. “For example, there is a 14-year-old boy from Walloon Brabant who is treated harshly at school and receives death threats on social media,” it said.
At Shmira they ask for extra support from the security services: “There is already increased control from the local police, but more is needed. We look to the federal police for this.” For the time being, there are no plans in that direction, says Nick Gyselinck, spokesperson for Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V).
“The minister has already released the local police of Antwerp from other obligations, such as supervising football matches, so that they can deploy extra troops to secure the Jewish quarter in the city. The minister understands the feeling of insecurity, but because threat level 3 applies throughout the country today, the federal police are needed everywhere and it is not easy to send extra platoons to Antwerp. As soon as OCAD signals that it is necessary, we will of course act quickly.”