BRUSSELS—39-year-old Michael Freilich is the first practicing Jew to seat in the Belgian federal parliament.
A former editor in chief of the Joods Actueel Jewish magazine in Antwerp, Freilich was elected in May on the right-wing Flemish nationalist party N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) list. ‘’A pro-Jewish party which is the only to listen to both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’’ stressed the MP.
At the opening session of the new parliament in Brussels he took the oath wearing a kippah, a situation which caused discomfort among some Liberal MEPs who are in favor of prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols by elected officials. The debate was opened after a new Muslim Senator, Farida Tahar, took the oath with a veil covering her head.
But Michael Freilich believes that ‘’while the kippah is a religious symbol, the veil is a symbol of oppression.’’
In an interview with Belgian daily Le Soir, he said he was annoyed by the fact the fact that other MPs made a link between my kippah and the veil weared by the Senator.
‘’The kippah is not a symbol of oppression but recalls that there is something higher than ourselves. It is a mark of respect towards God. The veil it is not between the woman and God but between the woman and the man,’’ he said. ‘’Rrgarding the veil, we need to ask ourselves why people wear it. It is a symbol of oppression. The veil is not a symbol of integration into the society.’’
Freilich mentioned that he took off his kippah the week after taking the oath. ‘’I am a practicing Jew, this is part of my identity but I don’t want people to look at me only as a representative of my community,’’ he added. ‘’Taking the oath with a kippah in the parliament of a country which deported Jews during WWII it was very important for me, for my family and for the Jewish community.’’ ‘’But beyond the symbol I want to be considered as a representative of the whole Flanders region.’’ ‘’For the legislative work, I won’t wear the kippah,’’ he said.