BRUSSELS – Jan Jambon, the Belgian interior minister, aroused a storm of controversy in the country Wednesday when, in a television interview, he compared the Muslim terrorists who hid in Brussels for months to “the Jews who hid here during the Nazi occupation,” later clarifying that his comments pertained to "the mechanism of hiding."
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Jambon, a member of the right-wing Flemish party N-VA (New Flemish Alliance), spoke on a news program of the Flemish VTM channel in Antwerp. At first his words attracted no attention, but when Antwerp City Council member Claude Marinower learned of them, he posted them on social networks and the reactions began.
Marinower, a former MP, told the Jewish news website Regards: “At first when they told me about it I didn’t believe it was possible. I asked to watch the video – and realized that Jambon really did make this dubious comparison It’s inconceivable, it’s shocking for all those who hid Jews during the occupation while endangering their lives. How can you compare the jihadist criminals who are hiding today with the innocent Jews who wanted to flee from the Nazi manhunt?”
In an initial response Wednesday, the interior minister’s spokesperson said, “Jambon had no intention of offending the Belgian Jews, on the contrary. He isn’t comparing Jews and terrorists, he was only referring to a factual element of Belgian history: that providing a refuge, hiding people, was something positive, but what is happening today in Brussels is not. Jambon’s statement refers only to the technical aspect of finding the refuge.”
Jambon, 56, also serves as the deputy prime minister. His party has temporarily waived its demand for Flemish independence and severance from the French Wallonia region in order to participate in the government. Jambon has already been attacked in the past for participating in a festive gathering marking the 50th anniversary of the organization of Flemish volunteers who fought alongside the Nazis on the Eastern Front during World War II.
After assuming his present position in the leadership of the party, which is the senior partner in the government, he caused another political stir: In a newspaper interview he expressed understanding for Nazi collaborators during the occupation, saying, “Collaboration was a mistake, but the people had reasons for doing it at the time.” When the opposition demanded his dismissal, he apologized.