The Belgians as true Europeans

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A very personal j’accuse by a former Belgian Jew

My grandparents and many members of my family in Belgium were deported and gassed in Auschwitz. As in most Nazi occupied countries in Europe, the state bureaucracy and Belgian collaborators cooperated with the Nazis in apprehending Jewish citizens. I was fortunate to arrive in Australia as an infant with my parents on the last boat to leave Antwerp on the eve of the war.

When the World Jewish Congress held a meeting in Brussels last April, I insisted on the right to address Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt who was scheduled to speak but cancelled his acceptance at the last moment. He was substituted by the president of the Belgian Senate but the prime minister did subsequently respond to my remarks by correspondence.

I spoke at a luncheon in the presence of delegates and guests. Suspending diplomatic niceties I confessed to the Belgians that I had strongly opposed holding a World Jewish Congress meeting in a city which had become the capital of the new anti-Semitism in Europe.

Here is what I said: “Your government, and particularly your foreign minister, Louis Michel, have employed such outrageous double standards against Israel that they warrant being described as anti-Semitic.

“Some of the allegations of atrocities against Israel were so outlandish that they were reminiscent of the Middle Ages when Jews were being accused of poisoning the wells and utilizing the blood of Christian children to make unleavened bread.

“Would you tolerate a neighboring territory orchestrating, funding, and blessing as ‘holy martyrs’ suicide murderers targeting your civilian population? Would you tolerate a situation in which Belgian women and children were terrified at being blown to pieces in your cafes and shopping centers? Would you tolerate street side celebrations by your neighbors sometimes just a few kilometers away, frequently displayed on your TV screens, rejoicing at the carnage that they had inflicted on your people?”

I reminded the Belgian foreign minister that his country had supported a United Nations resolution condemning Israel for defending itself and even indirectly endorsing Palestinian terrorism as a legitimate vehicle against so-called Israeli occupation.

“It is a mark of shame,” I said “for your country – most of whose Jews were exterminated by the Nazis – to now stand at the forefront of actions designed to undermine the only democratic state in the Middle East; the state which also provided a haven to survivors of the Holocaust.

“Your calls for a boycott and other acts of hostility against the Jewish state, make me feel that despite my roots in Belgium, I would be dishonoring the memory of my Belgian grandparents by identifying in any way with a government whose leaders have such short memories that they can behave so appallingly to the heirs of the Holocaust.”

THE RELATIONSHIP with Belgium has deteriorated considerably since the meeting described above. But the Ariel Sharon issue was the last straw. For a government whose predecessors were responsible for the murder of literally millions of Congolese citizens, to give the green light for a court to sit in judgment on Sharon is simply beyond belief.

Only a fool or a charlatan would suggest that this initiative was motivated by a na ve desire to promote human rights, especially having regard to the fact that this act was initiated 20 years after the events and conducted without reference to the Phalangists who actually carried out the massacres.

And of course this action must be seen in the context of a country which has effectively been leading the pack in demonizing Sharon while simultaneously defending Palestinian terror and extolling Yasser Arafat as a noble statesman fighting for human rights.

In the light of this, the Belgian Jewish community is doing itself a disservice by now trying to understate the anti-Semitic motivations of the parties promoting this anti Israeli offensive. Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was fully justified in describing the decision of the Belgian court as a blood libel.

Nevertheless, it would be a grave mistake to view this abomination in isolation. The Belgians are simply less sophisticated than most Europeans and their Israel bashing or anti-Semitism is perhaps cruder and more brutal than their colleagues. But we should be under no illusion. Belgium’s excesses carry the support of most Europeans whose zeal in attacking Israel is motivated by the same prejudice and double standards even when presented in a more sophisticated manner and accompanied by clich s about Israeli’s right to exist.

The anti-American bashing throughout Europe will only aggravate the situation. It is extraordinary to see the Europeans, who had no qualms about bombing Serbian residential suburbs in order to destabilize Slobodan Milosevic, expressing outrage about US efforts to cut Saddam Hussein down to size, and insisting that regime change in Iraq would be immoral!

It is not surprising that Jews in particular see ominous parallels to the “peace camp” in 1939 when Europeans also displayed passion and desperation to find “peace in our time” and supported Neville Chamberlain’s policies of appeasement.

The growth of rabid anti-Americanism in Europe may generate more hatred against Israel and intensify anti-Semitism. For confirmation of this one only has to observe the major anti-Israeli component – and the utter absence of calls on Saddam to disarm or reform his brutal regime – in the so-called “peace demonstrations” that swept the world over the past week.

The other lesson for Israel is that if the Europeans, who represent the most “enlightened” elements in the UN, can behave in such an abominable manner, what can we expect from that body?

The Americans have learned the bitter lesson of relying on the United Nations Security Council. They now realize that when the chips are down, the League of Nations and the United Nations are proving to be birds of the same feather. Indeed, the UN membership includes many newly formed tyrannies that are far worse than the autocracies that existed during the pre-war era. It should therefore be transparently obvious that in today’s climate, the Europeans, the UN, the Quartet and all the other purportedly neutral third parties would unhesitatingly sell Israel down the river.

There are no people in recent history who have suffered as much as Israelis because they worshipped false dreams and illusions. Today we share a more realistic understanding of the world – of our Palestinian neighbors, of those purporting to act as neutral brokers, and our one ally whom we highly appreciate but in whom we must also avoid placing our total reliance.

In this context, we should bear in mind an illuminating exchange that Menachem Begin had with president Jimmy Carter. In response to a question as to why the US stood by and failed to lift a finger to save their loyal ally, the Shah of Iran. who was overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists, Carter told Begin that he respected the Shah. But if the Shah himself was not willing to face hostile public opinion and make the tough decisions to defend himself, there was little the US could do for him.

Moral of the story: We are not a superpower and could not survive in utter isolation. But if we are not prepared to stand up and take the necessary steps to defend ourselves because we have become unduly subservient to convoluted international public opinion, we are doomed because even our allies will distance themselves from us.

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