BRUSSELS (EJP)---The Belgian Jewish community was absorbing allegations of a major rift between their main representative bodies, following publication of an article in the New York's Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).
The article focused on the contrasting responses by the Brussels-based French-speaking Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organisations in Belgium (CCOJB) and the Antwerp-based Flemish-speaking Forum of Jewish Organisations (FJO) to the recent decision by the Belgian government to join Austria as the only two EU member states to vote in favour of a UN-led investigation into West Bank settlement construction.
Whilst the CCOJB met with a Belgian Foreign Ministry official to seek clarification of Belgian’s position regarding Israel, the FJO released an independent statement condemning the official Belgian stance and saying “the Jewish community was shocked and appalled” by the vote.
The President of CCOJB, Maurice Sosnowski, defended the organisation’s decision to meet with the foreign ministry official, in lieu of openly criticising the country’s foreign policy, in an open letter to JTA. "In view of CCOJB’s disapproval of the Belgian government’s position in the matter, our president met with (Belgian Foreign Minister) Didier Reynders, to demand an explanation as to this incomprehensible vote for the Jewish community of Belgian, both French and Flemish."
“During that meeting Francois de Kerckhove, the minister chief of staff, said that the Belgian policy in the Middle East would continue to be guided by support for the security of Israel and that Reynders plans to improve relations, particularly academic and scientific, between Belgium and Israel,” he wrote.
Whilst much is made of the apparent gulf becoming clear between the positions of the CCOJB and the FJO, the CCOJB board has remained insistent that they represent cross-political interests of the entire Jewish community in Belgiu. “The CCOJB is a democratic association representing all strands of political opinion in the Jewish community,” it said.
Ccommunity figures are quick to point out that there have always been vast differences between the Flemish-speaking Flanders, where Antwerp is located, and the French-speaking in Brussels and Wallonia.
The CCOJB continues to officially represent the entire community but the creation in 1993 of a separate body to represent the Jewish community in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium but also the more Orthodox Jews of Antwerp is seen by many as a natural step in the process of political representation.
Flemish speakers are accustomed to having separate political parties to French-speakers, to reflect their varying needs and ideologies.
The wider political crisis in Belgium which led to a new world record being established last year for the longest continuous period without an elected government (541 days in total), came about because Flemish and Wallonian representatives could not agree to terms. The country has finally succeeded in a forming a coalition government led by French-speaking Socialist Elio Di Rupo.
But some commentators continue to question whether the country is sustainable in its current unified makeup.
In an interview with EJP, Julien Klener, President of the Belgian Consistoire, the umbrella institution for Jewish religious bodies, took a pragmatic approach to reports of a rift between the CCOJB and FJO.
"In a tiny country such as Belgium, an umbrella organisation should do everything possible to restore peace and to do whatever they can to meet to resolve whatever differences there are. The Consistoire, the Flemish religious organissation and the French ones eet in peace and respect."
He continued: "The recent reports are not a distortion of the facts, as there is a difference in political sensibilities between the two organisations. In spite of this, communication must remain open between the parties and people should refrain from remarks that are incendiary. People have to talk and will have to talk. People of goodwill will always continue to communicate, as they need to do so."
The CCOJB in turn have stated: "Even before the JTA article was published, the CCOJB president on several occasions had invited FJO and the Consistoire to a meeting with the aim of re-establishing a climate of trust and partnership, and to speak with one voice on key issues: the fight against anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel. This invitation remains open."
Kouky Frohmann, President of the Forum in Antwerp, could not be contacted for a comment.
Around 18,000 Jews live in Anwterp, around the same number in Brussels.