Usually, it’s only implied by Israel’s absence on a Mideast map, but this time a Belgium’s federal hotline operator made it explicit to a Jewish caller: “It’s called Palestine, sir.”
The caller, who identified himself as a volunteer for Antwerp’s Jewish Coordination Committee, told the operator in Flemish that he was inquiring about arrangements to transport to Israel two people who were injured in the Brussels airport bombing.
He said he was told by the hospital that in order to have them discharged, “we need special papers from the police that they can be released. Is this correct and to who should we ask that? Can you tell me more about that?” he asked, in a recording of the conversation published on the website of Joods Actueel, a Belgian Jewish monthly.
The operator’s reply was not what he expected: “That’s actually… See… Back to Palestine.”
The Jewish caller insisted: “Not Palestine, Israel,” prompting another correction by the operator:: “Yes, but that was before Palestine, of course. It’s called Palestine, sir.”
Asked for his first name, the operator said it was Zakharia but refused to give his last name.
When challenged, the operator “explained”: “I know the Jews went to there, that Palestine received them and that there is a war between Israel and Palestine, of course. And the occupation… that’s what’s on the news of course.” Asked whether he would be able to help with the patients’ discharge regardless, the operator replied, “Yes, of course.”
After the story broke, a spokesperson for the hotline said it deeply deplores the “isolated case” and will take “necessary actions” against the staffer in question, which the center said was not a civil servant but a call center employee.
Michael Freilich, the editor-in-chief of Joods Actueel, demanded the operator be punished, that the “standard apology” would not do.
It “defies imagination” that an employee at a Belgian state service would display the anti-Israel behavior that is commonplace in Arab countries, he said.