Purim celebrations were largely canceled in Brussels this week, not only at the request of the police but because they would have been unseemly after Tuesday’s terrorist attacks that killed at least 31 and injured 270 more.
That’s the view of Joel Rubinfeld, president of Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, who said he counseled family and friends not to celebrate. Police had requested only that members of the Jewish community not wear Purim masks and forbad children from carrying toy weapons as part of their costumes.
“I regret that not all of them [celebrations] were canceled,” Rubinfeld told The Jewish Week. “For me, it’s very important not to fear terrorists — life has to go on. But that does not matter here. Following the terrorist attacks there were three days of mourning and Purim was within those days. It was a national mourning and we were sharing the same fate. When there is mourning we have to respect that. We need to share this all together. … You don’t celebrate.”
Rubinfeld was in Washington for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when the terrorist attacks occurred at the city’s airport and subway system. At least two Americans were among the dead.
“On the one side, it is awful and shameful; on the other side, it was not surprising to me,” he said by phone Thursday, one day before conducting a special briefing for Jewish leaders at UJA-Federation of New York.
Such an attack, he said, “is what we expected in Brussels. Life there has changed in the last 15 years. At the end of September in 2000, the second intifada began and the very next day Jews in Belgium were attacked. My rabbi became a victim of insults, with young people spitting on him and throwing stones all because he a rabbi with a synagogue in a Muslim neighborhood.”
Rubinfeld noted that fully one-third of the city’s population of 1 million is Muslim and that Jews number just 20,000.
At the time of the second intifada, “From Friday night to Saturday night [the rabbi] walked three times back and forth to the synagogue, and he was an easy target,” he said. “This continued for one to two years and then things calmed down for a little bit. Then Molotov cocktails were thrown at synagogues and the attacks culminated in 2014 when a French Algerian terrorist killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.”
Each time Israel is forced to go to war with Hamas or Hezbollah terrorists, Rubinfeld pointed out, “you saw hundreds and thousands in the street with anti-Israel demonstrations, hold anti-Semitic banners, waving the Hezbollah flag and shouting, ‘Death to Jews’ in Arabic. This is why what is happening today is very logical. The climate we are experiencing today has been going on for 15 years.”
Asked if the authorities were aware of it, Rubinfeld said he had personally warned about it for years.
“I said if you do not tackle this anti-Semitism, it will spread and tomorrow everybody will be a target. I said, ‘If you don’t do it for my kids, what we are experiencing will happen to your kids. … There are some people who don’t see red when Jewish blood is spilled.
“They have to understand that Jews are the canary in the coal mine, and when the canary is dying it means bigger problems are coming. So it starts with killing and harassing Jews, and if not stopped, this movement becomes uncontrollable.”
He said he had just seen the video of a Muslim woman wearing the traditional hijab tear up an Israeli flag that had been placed at the makeshift Brussels attack memorial.
Other pictures and video have also been posted online of men sticking a pole from a Palestinian flag through the Israeli flag at the memorial, and another showed a man covering the Israeli flag with a Palestinian flag.
He then recited from memory the dates and locations of the other nearby terrorist attacks in the region since the Toulouse Jewish school shootings in March 2012 that killed three Jewish children and a teacher.
“What was the reaction?” Rubinfeld asked rhetorically. “Nothing special. It was tragic, but I did not see 4 million people take to the streets like they did in January 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo attack” in Paris that killed 12, including eight of the satirical magazine’s journalists and a police officer.
“Two days later there was an attack on a kosher supermarket, and then in February an attack against the main synagogue in Denmark at which the Jewish guard was killed,” he said. “So first they attack the Jews and symbols like soldiers, police and journalists. Now in Brussels, everybody has become the target. When you have the rise in totalitarianism we are experiencing now, if you don’t respond swiftly and firmly, you will become overwhelmed — and that is what we are experiencing. It could have been prevented if authorities had tackled anti-Semitism very strongly. Now, it is very difficult to control.”
Not only is anti-Semitism spreading across Europe, but it has also spread to Britain, where in recent days the co-chair of the Oxford University Labor Club resigned due to charges of anti-Semitism within the club. And the chairman of the Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was compelled to say it is “totally fallacious” to suggest that his party tolerates anti-Semitism.
One of the most important fundraisers for the Labor Party, Lord Michael Levy, had threatened to quit unless Corbyn made such a declaration. The party is now conducting an investigation into the alleged anti-Semitism at the university’s Labor Club after it voted to support Israel Apartheid Week.
Just last week, a party member, Vicki Kirby, was suspended for the second time for anti-Semitic tweets. She was first suspended in 2014 after a tweet that suggested Adolf Hitler was a “Zionist God.”
Lord George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, told The Jewish Week that he found allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford “more worrying” than Kirby’s tweets.
“She is a middle-ranking Laborite, but we’re talking about the largest Labor Party student body in England,” he said. “These are our brightest students, and when you see this it is a very worrying sign. I think they should expel the people who are inciting hatred against Jewish people.”
Lord Carey, who is scheduled to deliver the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s State of Anti-Semitism lecture at Temple Emanu-el’s Skirball Center here Tuesday at 7 p.m., pointed out that Jews have been very prominent in the Labor Party.
“If you look at the history of its formation, it was shaped by Jewish leaders and David Miliband, who was its leader until very recently, comes from a Jewish family,” he said. “It’s very worrying. … One of my fears is that what is happening in the Muslim world is focusing attention now on what one of the people in the Labor Party called the `Jewish question’ — which is quite horrifying.”
Lord Carey said he has found college students to be “very impressionable, and they take to politics and give off youthful views that are often half-baked and uninformed — and the universities must address them.”
He pointed out that about 5 million of England’s 53 million residents are Muslims and that Jews, who represent just 1 percent of the population, “are feeling the pinch.”
He noted that Maureen Lipman, a British theater, television and film actress, “said a year ago that for the first time she is becoming uneasy about living in England as a Jew.”
Inset: Joel D. Rubinfeld, President, Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism. Courtesy