A month after the deadly shootings at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, the head of the Belgian Jewish community has warned that European Jews should brace for further attacks.
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“I think that every Jewish community in the world today has to be prepared for such a kind of incident,” said Dr. Maurice Sosnowski, the leader of the 40,000-strong community, in an interview with Haaretz. “From what I’ve heard from all sorts of experts on terrorism, this kind of event will happen probably five times in Europe over the next two years, so that means everyone has to be prepared.”
Sosnowski, a professor of medicine at the Free University of Brussels, also serves as vice president of the European Jewish Congress. He was in Israel participating in a delegation of Jewish community leaders from around the world who met this past week with senior cabinet members.
Four people, including an Israeli couple, were killed in the May 24 shooting outside the museum. A week later, a French national with reported links to Islamic radical groups was arrested in connection with the attack.
In wake of the attack, Sosnowski said he had demanded that the government help finance the costs of upgrading security in buildings and institutions that could be targeted in the future because of their links to the Jewish community. This included 50 buildings in Antwerp and another 30 in Brussels, the two major centers of the local Jewish community. “They are now investigating how much this will cost,” he said, noting that in several other European countries, such security costs are covered by the government.
Although recent months have seen more Belgian Jews immigrating to Israel, Sosnowski said that in absolute terms, the numbers were negligible. “When they talk about an increase of 30 percent,” he said, “that’s sounds like a lot until you realize that it’s 30 percent of 100, which is a very small number.”
He said the increase was not necessarily linked to rising anti-Semitism or to last month’s attack, but rather, to the depressed state of the economy.
Sosnowski said he had no intention of encouraging Belgian Jews to pick up and move to Israel. “As the head of the Belgian Jewish community, I would never ever say to people go to Israel,” he said, “I’m a Belgian citizen and very proud of it. If people feel insecure, they can leave. But this is their own choice.”
Asked if he felt Jews have a future in Europe, he responded: “If there is no future for the Jewish people in Europe, there is no future for democratic societies in Europe. It’s not a question just of the future of the Jews but of the future of all societies everywhere.”
Sosnowski is the brother-in-law of the late Joseph Wybran, a Belgian immunologist and former leader of the local Jewish community, who was gunned down in a terrorist incident 25 years ago. In 2008, Abdelkader Belliraj, a member of the Abu Nidal organization, was arrested in Morocco on various charges, and during his cross-examination confessed to murdering Wybran and several other Belgian citizens. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
Following his confession a case was also opened against him in Brussels, but several months ago the Belgian state prosecutor’s office recommended that the case be closed for lack of evidence linking Belliraj to the Wybran murder. According to international press reports, Belliraj had served as an informant for the Belgian national security.
The court is due to rule in November on whether to accept the recommendation of the state prosecutor. If it rules in favor, Belliraj could request a retrial in Morocco based on this decision.
A final decision to close the case, said Sosnowski, would be seen as a slap in the face to the Jewish community. “The murder of Dr. Wybran was the first anti-Semitic attack on Belgian soil since World War II,” he said, “and we do not want to see this case closed because for us, it is important that there is recognition in Belgium that this was an act of anti-Semitism. If there is no recognition, we will go as far as we can to seek justice. We are not asking that there be a trial or that the murderer be extradited. All we are asking for is recognition.”
Sosnowski, a secular Jew who had little connection to the Jewish community before his appointment to his leadership position four-and-a-half years ago, also serves as head of the department of anesthesiology and intensive care at the hospital affiliated with his university.