After the Paris attacks and Brussels raids, Belgium’s Jews consider new exodus

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From The Telegraph

But a fortnight after a Brussels-based jihadist cell committed the Paris atrocities, and 18 months after four people were murdered by a terrorist in the city’s Jewish museum, she doubts whether the self-styled capital of Europe is safe for Jews.

A former president of the country’s Zionist association, Mrs Dan helps organise property fairs, catering for some of the 200 Belgians a year who move to Israel. Reluctantly, she is thinking of following them – as are many others.

Since Paris, she has received telephone calls from people seeking information on moving at a rate of five a day, compared to one a week previously.  “A few years ago it was the pensioners going, who wanted the Israeli sun,” said Mrs Dan, the manager of a Jewish radio station for 25 years. “Now it is young people with children who sell their houses and leave everything. They are scared.”

Other friends are planning to head to the United States, Canada or London.

“It is a painful thing. I am a real Belgian – my country, my culture and my friends are here,” said Mrs Dan. She plans to take her daughter, Brigitte, and grandson, Daniel, to join her son in Tel Aviv. “My daughter never, never, never thought to leave. Now, she says of her little boy, what is his future here? We don’t feel safe.” 

Community leaders now speak with alarm of a rising tide of anti-Semitism in a country that has been home to Jews since Roman times, and who number just 45,000 out of a population of 11 million. Some claim the hostility emantes almost exclusively from young men of Arabic descent. 

Last weekend, as troops in armoured vans patrolled the streets in anticipation of an “imminent” terrorist attack, Brussels’ Grand Synagogue closed its doors for Shabbat for the first time since the Second World War.

Mrs Dan, in common with others who spoke to the Telegraph, describes her now reflexive habits to avoid attention on the streets, including reluctantly covering her Star of David necklace. 

Rabbi Avi Tawil, the director of the European Jewish Community Centre, recalls how, shortly after moving to Brussels 10 years ago, an admiring stranger asked the age of his baby son in his pram. “Allah willing, he will be dead soon,” the man remarked.

He reveals he is regularly sworn at and threatened when walking with his four children, and he has withdrawn his daughters from a swimming club following a threat to kidnap them. 

“If I count my own experience, the insults and violent actions seem to come from people who curse me with Allahu Akhbar, or some Arabic insult.”

Many families, he says, are finding an instinct for “survival” trumps their idealistic hope that community relations will improve. “We see people are targeted for being Jewish in the streets all the time,” he said. “It is a war of ideas. I do hear around me this idea coming over and over: that we should not think of Brussels or Europe as a long-term strategy for our children.” 

Last week Karl Vanlouwe, a leading Flemish politician, blamed socialist MPs for indulging radical networks with “extreme tolerance” and turning the Brussels into a “base for Islamic barbarism”.

Mrs Dan, recalling her parents’ saviours, agrees. “They are afraid of this community. The Belgians are a very nice people,” she said. “That’s the problem.” 

 

 

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