BRUSSELS —The Israeli embassy in Belgium has protested the publication by a Belgian daily newspaper of a column ‘’which conveys antisemitic stereotypes.’’
In a tweet, the embassy said it was ‘’deeply shocked by the publication in Belgian newspaper De Morgen of a blatantly anti-Semitic article by writer Dimitri Verhulst.’’
The column, published by the leftwing daily on July 27, has caused an uproar in the Jewish community. It was titled “There is no promised land, only stolen land.’’ It started with the following statement : “Because God has His favorites and they have their privileges, Palestinians were driven out of their homes in 1948 to make a place for God’s favorites.”
Verhulst, who is a Flemish writer, referred in his text to the Jewish people as creatures with ‘’ugly noses.’’ He also misquoted late French Jewish singer Serge Gainsbourg in saying ‘’Being a Jew is not religion, there is not a single God who would give his creatures such an ugly nose.’’ Gainsbourg had neither mentioned God nor called Jewish noses ugly.
De Morgen later said said the quote was “not entirely accurate” in a correction published in the column.
Verhulst also accused Israel of ‘’murdering’’ thousand of Palestinians.’’
The Israeli embassy said that ‘’Antisemitism is not a legitimate opinion, it’s a crime.’’
Israel’s Ambassador to Belgium, Emmanuel Nahshon, wrote on Twitter that his embassy “will fight forcefully and uncompromisingly against anti-Semitism, which is a crime not only targeting the Jewish community but against any democratic and tolerant society.”
The Israeli embassy statement criticizing the newspaper is rather an unusal move.
In a letter, the European Jewish Association (EJA) and six other Jewish organisations in Europe urged to the newspaper to retract the article and apologize. But editor-in-chief of Der Morgen Bart Eeckhout defended the op-ed, saying : “We clearly do not view the text as anti-Semitic. Otherwise we wouldn’t have published it. The op-ed surely is a harsh criticism on Israel’s politics toward the Palestinian people. Anti-Semitism is a very serious allegation, which we think is used too easily in this case, in a way to silence the debate about Israel’s policies.”
The European Jewish Association said that Eeckhout said his paper would publish the letter of the Jewish organisations.
The Forum of Jewish Organizations (FJO) in Antwerp, a group representing the Jewish community in Flanders, said Verhulst’s statement “directly and straightforwardly targets the entire Jewish people in an antisemitic manner.”
“This is a step too far,” said Hans Knoop, spokesperson for he FJO which announced that it would introduce a police complaint against Verhulst.
“Criticism of Israel is legitimate. Anyone can criticize Israel. How far you can go in this is subjective. But with Dimitri Verhulst it is clear: he is targeting the Jewish people as a people,” he said.
“These are allegations that do not focus on the policy of the State of Israel, but on the Jews as a people and thus cross a line,” he added.
He said :“The border with regard to freedom of expression is very clearly indicated in Europe. Freedom of expression is limited and is therefore not absolute. Dimitri Verhulst too will have to respect the limits of freedom of expression.”
He also noted that ‘’if Dimitri Verhulst is not prosecuted and does not receive a red card from a , it is time for the Jews to prepare their bags.’’