4,000 people join rally against antisemitism in Brussels

At least 4,000 people gathered in Brussels on Sunday for a demonstration against antisemitism, according to police figures. 

Participants gathered at 14.00 at Place de la Chapelle and marched to Place Poelaert via the Jewish Museum and the Great Synagogue. Many carried Belgian flags and posters with slogans such as “You don’t have to be a Jew to fight antisemitism”.

The march, held on International Human Rights Day, was organised by the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organisations in Belgium (CCOJB), the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism and the Forum of Jewish Organisations.

"Antisemitism is a very specific form of racism in terms of its history and the particular expression of this hatred"

The organisers spoke of the fear felt by the Jewish community due to the rise in antisemitic incidents since the start of Israel’s war against Hamas, following the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. 

They said they opposed not only antisemitism but all forms of racism and condemned “the instrumentalisation of the fight against antisemitism for racist and Islamophobic purposes”.

In a press release, Justice minister Paul Van Tigchelt of Flemish liberal party Open VLD said: “We cannot accept that fellow citizens are afraid to leave their homes. Yet this is the case for a lot of Jewish people.” He urged the Jewish community to report incidents of antisemitism. 

Politicians present

“Antisemitism is a very specific form of racism in terms of its history and the particular expression of this hatred,” said Yves Oschinsky, president of the CCOJB. “It therefore requires a different analysis and response, including the promotion of Jewish life.” 

The march had divided the Jewish community and Belgian politicians, in part because of comments made by the president of the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism, Joël Rubinfeld. Rubinfeld has been critical of green party Ecolo, socialists PS and the far-left PTB/PVDA, accusing some of their members of borrowing the “contemporary markers of antisemitism” and of being the “main vectors of contemporary antisemitism”. 

Representatives of all political parties attended the rally, except for PTB, who had claimed the event was being used to prevent criticism of the State of Israel.

Combating all forms of racism, including antisemitism, was the objective of the bloc formed by the Union des Progessistes juifs de Belgique, which marched separately from the main procession.

“Not forgetting, because 100 years ago, Europe was still deporting Jews to the death camps. Not denial, because antisemitism is still with us today, in many forms,” a spokesperson said. “Nor is this struggle being used by some for racist and Islamophobic ends, or to silence the necessary criticism of the apartheid policies pursued by the Israeli government.” 

Sunday was also the fourth day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. To mark the occasion, the candles of a large menorah were lit in front of the European Commission and Council headquarters in Brussels. 

“An old evil is resurfacing in Europe,” Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at the lighting ceremony. “There should be no place for this hatred, especially here in Europe. And there is no justification for the rise in antisemitism.”

The march against antisemitism in central Brussels © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / Ursula von der Leyen and the director of the European Jewish Community Centre Avi Tawil light one of the candles of a Hanukkah menorah in front of the Commission and European Council headquarters © SIMON WOHLFAHRT / AFP

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