Brussels Jewish Museum Shooting: A Rare, Yet Foreboding Incident

Belgium is hardly a leader in anti-Semitic incidents, but increasing reports in recent years may point to a change in atmosphere there.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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A forensic expert enters the site of a shooting, at the Jewish museum in Brussels, May 24, 2014.
A forensic expert enters the site of a shooting, at the Jewish museum in Brussels, May 24, 2014.Credit: AP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A shooting from anti-Semitic motives, especially one leading to fatalities, possibly such as the murders that took place outside the Jewish museum in Brussels on Saturday, is a rare event. Most of the anti-Semitic incidents in the last few years have not involved physical assaults or fatalities, although there is an increasing trend towards attacking people.

A report on anti-Semitism, published last month by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, states that in only 4 percent of incidents in 2013 were weapons used. The other incidents involved violence without use of weapons (18 percent), threats (16 percent), vandalism (60 percent) and arson (2 percent). In general, most incidents were not directed at people, but at property. Thus, in 12 percent of cases synagogues were targeted, in 9 percent schools and community centers were attacked, in 16 percent cemeteries and memorials were defaced and in 29 percent it was private property that was damaged.

Belgium is not a leader in anti-Semitic incidents, according to the report, although in recent years there are increased reports of incidents and a change in atmosphere there.

According to the report, there are currently 30 thousand Jews in Belgium, mostly in Brussels and Antwerp. There are much larger Jewish communities in the United States, France, Canada, Britain and Russia, as well as in other countries. Belgium saw 11 incidents last year. In comparison to the Czech Republic and Norway in which only a single incident was reported, Belgium seems terrible. However, in comparison to France and other countries with dozens of reported incidents, the situation isn’t that bad.

However, a different survey carried out last year by the European Union painted a different picture. When Jews were asked about their feelings regarding anti-Semitism, Belgium, Hungary and France fared the worst. 60 percent or Belgian respondents said that extremist Islam is the most significant threat they face. Authorities in Belgium reported a 30 percent rise in complaints made in 2013.

The situation is much worse in France, Belgium’s neighbor. 2013 witnessed 116 violent incidents against Jews, the highest in the world. There has been a seven-fold increase in such incidents since 2000, culminating in the murders in Toulouse in 2012. Britain saw 96 incidents and Germany 36 last year. North America had more violent anti-Semitic attacks than Belgium, with 83 in Canada and 55 in the U.S.

The shooting in Belgium is part of a trend of increased attacks on people, such as the shooting in Kansas City, in which three people were killed last month at a Jewish center. Even though these attacks are fewer than those committed against property, they raise great concerns.

Overall there was a drop in violent incidents last year, with 554 cases, compared to 686 in 2012. This is still much higher than in the previous decade in which there were 150-200 cases a year.

"The fact that over the past decade the number of violent incidents is higher than in the preceding decade, and that it does not drop below a certain number, may indicate that anti-Semitism today is not dependent on external events," states a report written by Prof. Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University. Behind such violent attacks, she says, is "pure anti-Semitism." 

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