Protests in Belgium and Germany: Different Pictures, Similar Fears

While anti-Israel demonstrations in France have been marked by large numbers and violence, smaller demonstrations across Western Europe have raised similar concerns.

“The problem in Belgium is not what it is in France, but many elements are comparable,” said Daniel Schwammenthal, Director of AJC’s Transatlantic Institute in Brussels in an interview with Hamodia.  “There is a large Muslim immigrant population that contains elements of radical jihadists as well as support and legitimization from unions and left wing parties.”

According to Schwammenthal, pro-Palestinian protests in Brussels on Friday and Sunday were marked by Hizbullah flags, calls for jihad and violence against police. The mayor of Brussels had permitted the gathering on the condition that no such imagery would be present.

“I went to a policeman about the violation,” said Schwammenthal who was present at the events. “He [the officer] said ‘I am here for the traffic’ and that I would have to talk to the organizers.”

Unlike in France, demonstrations have had little effect on the Jewish community itself.

“Everything is calm here,” said Harav Yaakov David Schmahl, shlita, of Antwerp’s Shomrei Hadaas kehillah. “I have not seen any demonstrations or anti-Semitism here in Antwerp. Our main concern is for the situation in Eretz Yisrael.”

Harav Schmahl said that neither the Jewish quarter nor the main part of Antwerp, home to the vast majority of Belgium’s Jewish population, had been affected by any anti-Jewish incidents over the past few weeks.

Schwammenthal said that while the level of violence in France in much greater, the French government has been very open in acknowledging the problem at hand, something that Belgium has yet to do.

“We need very clear public statements delineating between criticism, even harsh criticism, of Israel and anti-Semitism.”

He said that while the recent fighting in Gaza has brought the issue to the fore, a study conducted in November, a time when there was no serious hostility in Eretz Yisrael, showed that there were serious issues of anti-Semitism in the country, particularly among Muslims.

Similar demonstrations have taken place in Germany as well.

“I was on the street in Berlin this past Erev Shabbos during a big anti-Israel rally,” Joshua Spinner, CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Berlin told Hamodia.  “There were approximately 1500 to 2000 participants at the rally.”

According to Spinner, strong warnings from the government against anti-Semitic language and imagery coupled with a large police presence, kept the demonstration relatively peaceful. Organizers themselves had appointed enforcers to prevent anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence.

Spinner also said that nearly all of the participants were of Arab descent and made an interesting distinction between the German left and its counterparts in other European countries.

“Germany is the only European country with left-wing pro-Israel proclivities, due to the moral legacy left behind by the Nazis … [there is an] absolute intolerance of anti-Semitism on the streets of Berlin.”

He expressed gratitude at the German government’s management of the situation. “Politicians of all levels including Chancellor Merkel and the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, have spoken out strongly against the anti Semitic incitement.”

Despite the brighter picture that Spinner drew, concerns remain.

“The Germans are far better at answering questions of moral responsibility towards Jews and Israel than other western European countries, but how long can that last? We hope we don’t need to find out.”