Belgium sees 'alarming rise' in hate speech linked to Israel-Palestine conflict

Belgium has seen an "alarming rise" in the number of reports of hate speech and crimes related to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the country's equal opportunities centre Unia said on Monday.

Unia recorded 91 reports directly related to the conflict between its start on 7 October and 7 December. Nine incidents can be considered hate crimes, said Unia director Els Keytsman.

Just over half of the reports concern online hate speech

In 2022, the centre received an average of four to five reports of antisemitism per month. The 91 incidents reported since the beginning of the conflict are not all related to antisemitism. 

In 66 of the 91 cases, there were direct references to Jewish origin. Eight reports involved references to Palestinian or Arab origin or Islamic religious beliefs. 

Just over half of the reports concern online hate speech, but Keytsman said that hate speech also occurs offline. 

Antisemitic graffiti and defacement

A number of reports have led to the opening of a case file, and nine incidents can be considered hate crimes. Criminal investigations into these offences, which include antisemitic graffiti and defacement, are still ongoing.

Unia called on politicians to "thoroughly analyse and address" the development. Hate speech "can under no circumstances be justified by the situation in the Middle East", Keytsman said. 

"We defend the right to freedom of expression, but incitement to hatred, violence, discrimination, harm or harassment because of a particular background is not acceptable," she said.

Firm and united response

Keytsman was speaking at the launch of a new intergovernmental coordination mechanism to combat antisemitism, which met for the first time on Monday. 

"We have to give a firm and united response to the antisemitism that has been present and growing in our society for a long time"

The new body will coordinate the approach to antisemitism and bring together the relevant ministers of all Belgian governments, as well as the Jewish community, relevant organisations, Unia and the Flemish Human Rights Institute.

"We cannot accept that communities live in fear because of certain discourses and actions," said state secretary for Equal Opportunities Marie-Colline Leroy on Monday. 

"We have to give a firm and united response to the antisemitism that has been present and growing in our society for a long time," she said.


On 24 November 2023, at least 85 Jewish graves were defaced in the Israeli section of the cemetery in Marcinelle, Belgium © BELGA PHOTO VIRGINIE LEFOUR

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