Thursday, 22 Aug 2019 - 21 of Av, 5779

Jewish group in Belgium maintains its criminal complaint against author of antisemitic newspaper column

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In a statement issued on Monday, the FJO points out that Verhulst has not yet taken back a word of his anti-Semitic tirade or expressed any remorse for it. ‘’Even after his Palestinian colleagues distanced themselves from him in De Morgen on August 9 and also accused Verhulst of anti-Semitism, he remained deaf.

BRUSSELS—The Forum of Jewish Organizations (FJO), the Antwerp-based representative group of the Jewish community in Flanders, sees no reason to withdraw the planned criminal complaint against a columnist who wrote an antisemitic piece in a Belgian newspaper.

The column by Flemish writer Dimitri Verhulst, published by the leftwing daily De Morgen 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 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.’’

In a statement issued on Monday, the FJO points out that Verhulst has not yet taken back a word of his anti-Semitic tirade or expressed any remorse for it. ‘’Even after his Palestinian colleagues distanced themselves from him in De Morgen on August 9 and also accused Verhulst of anti-Semitism, he remained deaf.

The Jewish group noted well that the editors of De Morgen corrected the quote falsely  attributed to Serge Gainsbourg by Verhulst.

“That is why it remains necessary for the judge to state clearly that anti-Semitism is punishable in Belgium and where exactly the extreme limit of freedom of expression should be drawn,” said FJO spokesman Hans Knoop.

In the meantime, a Jewish group in The Neterlands, the ‘’Federatief Joods Nederland’’ (FJN)  has also filed a criminal complaint against Verhulst with the Public Prosecution Service in Amsterdam.

The group’s lawyer, Herman Loonstein, points out that De Morgen is also for sale in the Netherlands and that, in his opinion, there is therefore a criminal offense there.

He is also investigating whether the Dutch Libris Literature Prize awarded to Dimitri Verhulst in 2009 can be taken away from him.

The Brussels-based European Jewish Association (EJA) together with the Chief Rabbi of The Netherlands, the Berlin community antisemitism coordinator, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, B’nai B’rith Europe and Hungary’s Action and Protection organisation have called on De Morgen’s editor-in-chief, Bart Eeckhout, to retract the column and offer an apology.

‘’Instead you decided to add insult to injury  by opening the matter to your readership to decide if the piece in question was antisemite,’’ wrote Alex Benjamin, Director of the European Jewish Association in a letter to Eeckhout. ‘’Unless an apology and retraction are forthcoming, will be contacting EU-wide politicians tasked with combating antisemitism, press watchdogs, the companies that advertise with you and exploring other avenues, included legal, in order for you to do so,’’ he wrote.

The Israeli embassy in Belgium has also protested the  column which, it said, ‘’conveys antisemitic stereotypes.’’

‘’Antisemitism is not a legitimate opinion, it’s a crime,’’ the embassy tweeted.

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