Representatives of Belgium’s largest Jewish community organizations expressed grave concern on Wednesday after learning that Brussels intends to discontinue military protection of Jewish institutions across the country this fall.
In a joint statement, the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium (CCOJB ) and the Forum of Jewish Organisations (FJO) umbrella groups decried the plan, stating that “no equivalent solution has not yet been proposed to guarantee the safety of citizens who attend Jewish events or institutions in our country.”
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The soldiers present outside of Belgian Jewish institutions were placed there because of a lack of a lack of police personnel and were “undeniably dissuasive” to potential attackers, the groups stated. However, now that Belgium’s terrorism risk level has been downgraded by the Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis, an independent government entity which tracks terrorism related threats, this protection is set to end on September 1, less than a week before the beginning of the High Holy Days.
CUTA currently puts the general threat level for Belgium at 2, or medium.
“The announced intention to withdraw the army itself increases the threat and thus also reinforces the feeling of insecurity,” the Jewish groups stated, adding that they believed that the risk to Belgian Jews has not decreased in recent months. They also called on “political decision-makers to ensure that security measures are not reduced in any way under the current circumstances.”
“Sadly, tensions in the Middle East have also led to an increase in antisemitic incidents in recent weeks,” the Jewish groups explained. “A significant reduction in the security of Belgians attending our institutions in these circumstances is therefore particularly problematic. Over the past year, the Jewish community in our country has repeatedly stressed the need to continue to provide adequate protection to Jewish institutions and Jewish neighborhoods.”
In light of dozens of incidents in Belgium alone in the preceding weeks, Joel Rubinfeld, the president of the Belgian League Against Antisemitism, wrote last month that he doubted whether he would be able to continue living in the country with his wife and two children.
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“I believed I could. Now I doubt I can,” Rubinfeld, a former leader of the CCOJB, wrote in an op-ed published in the Le Vif weekly.
This is not the first time that Brussels has called for an end to military protection of Jewish sites. A plan to end protection for synagogues in Antwerp by late 2020 was met with angry protests from the local Jewish community.
The armed troops were first assigned to protect Belgian Jews in the wake of a 2014 shooting attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium which killed four people and a 2015 attack in which four people were murdered at a kosher supermarket in Paris. In 2016, Brussels was rocked by a series of bomb blasts, killing more than 30 people.
The Conference of European Rabbis, which represents Jewish clerics across the continent, also expressed apprehension regarding the withdrawal of troops.
"We register with worry the concerns of the Jewish communities of Belgium and we would like to remind the Belgian government that its members are responsible to protect the lives of all its citizens, including the Jews, from possible terror attacks," CER chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt told Haaretz on Thursday.
Antisemitic incidents increased dramatically in multiple countries during the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas.
On May 19, the Community Security Trust, a Jewish watchdog organization in the UK, reported that it had recorded 116 antisemitic incidents since May 8, constituting a “fivefold increase in antisemitic incidents” over the previous 11-day period.
Shortly thereafter, the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America, reported an 80 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in the United States over the course of the previous month. New York governor Andrew Cuomo directed state police to reinforce security at Jewish institutions in the New York City area in the wake of a series of attacks, which led one local Jewish politician to declare that people were “literally afraid to walk the streets.”
In Germany, the country’s largest Jewish group demanded increased police protection after Israeli flags were burned outside of synagogues, one of which had its window broken, while in Austria, a woman was physically assaulted for reading a book about Jewish history on the subway.
JTA contributed to this report.