dimanche 15 novembre 2009

Belgium: Paranoia or Persecution?, par Stephanie Meneles

Source: Brandeis (via Engage)

"Belgium - a place where it is not only acceptable to hate Jews, it is recommended." (Stephanie Maneles, étudiante en sociologie à l'Université de Brandeis)

"Some may call it paranoia; others will say the fear is rational. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: a growing number of Jews in Belgium feel threatened because of their religious affiliations. These feelings have been caused by the biased media, partial politics, and more generally established xenophobia among the Belgian population. But these feelings of fear, which some dismiss as paranoia, are at the root of an increasing number of violent acts of anti-Semitism.

Like what, you ask? Notable examples are Ariel Sharon's trial in Brussels; the intensification of radical Islamic movements across the country; anti-Israel or anti-Semitic graffiti on walls, buses, and schools; and the increasingly frequent attacks of Belgian Jews on public grounds. Belgian natives will call this fear an over-exaggeration. They will claim that the country has been nothing but generous and accepting of Jews since the Holocaust. Still, despite the fact that a hatred of Jews has been largely unexpressed in the years since World War II, Jews in Belgium will unanimously agree that anti-Semitism is now, more than ever before, on the rise.

The incredible bias held by the Belgian media laid the groundwork for the rise in anti-Semitism. Media outlets—newspapers, televised documentaries, or even weekly magazines—persistently cover Israel's harsh and unfair treatment of poor, helpless Palestinians. Not only does the media choose to abstain from broadcasting about Israeli victims, but it opts to blame Israel's wrongdoings on the fact that it is a "Jewish state." Belgians' disproportionate criticism of Israel and its policies toward Palestinians have made Jews in Belgium feel threatened on a daily basis.

Changing the legal rules
It does not help that the Belgian government not only ignores, but actively participates in, this obvious bias. The most concrete example is the 2003 indictment of former prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon. Even though Belgium had no connection to the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp massacres—during which up to 2,000 people were killed—the Belgian government felt compelled to indict Ariel Sharon for his role in the bloodbath.

While the Belgian appeals court ruled that Mr. Sharon could not legally be tried in Belgium—because crimes committed abroad can only be prosecuted if the suspect is on Belgian soil—the Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, had different ideas. Verhofstadt said he supported the broadening of the scope of the law by the Belgian parliament so that a war crime could be prosecuted "no matter where the person accused of the crime is located." So, not only did Belgian courts choose to try the leader of the only Jewish nation in the world for a crime committed two decades prior to the indictment, but also the entire Belgian justice system was being changed to accommodate such an action. The Belgian Jewish community saw this as yet another occurrence that vaguely hinted at anti-Semitism without explicitly showcasing it. After all, it seemed like the courts were willing to go to great lengths to find justice for a crime that in no way, shape, or form affected Belgium's safety or its inhabitants."

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Stephanie Maneles is a senior at Brandeis, double majoring in international and global studies and in sociology. She was born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium, and decided to attend school in the United States because she believed this would provide her with the best education for her future career in politics and/or social work. Stephanie plans to stay in the United States after graduation and work for a nongovernmental organization that focuses on human and women's rights. She hopes to take a year off before graduate school to travel and volunteer in South America.

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