Even the most vile and shameful anti-Semitic depictions are no longer beyond the pale on the Continent.

Several months ago, I wrote about the bleak prospects for Europe’s Jewish communities (https://worldisraelnews.com/opinion-the-future-of-european-jewry/), but given recent events, it’s clear that I underestimated the gravity and imminence of the existential threats.  In every country in Western Europe, anti-Semitic incidences continue unabated (and in most case, virtually unpunished), and one particular event in recent days perhaps best illustrates the untenable situation in which Europe’s Jews find themselves.

Last week in Belgium, the town of Aalst had a parade in which one of the floats depicted hook-nosed Hassidic Jews surrounded by money bags and rats.  Walking alongside the float were a number of people dressed in Ku Klux Klan costumes.

When the mayor of Aalst was asked why he allowed such an overtly anti-Semitic demonstration, he replied that the parade had been recognized by UNESCO as an important cultural event and he defended the free speech rights of the people who had created the float.  Not one word of contrition, not a smidgen of recognition that Jews and other sentient beings might be offended by such imagery.

No one should have been surprised by Aalst’s complete lack of self-awareness given that the same parade a few years ago had featured a float modeled after a Nazi train car with people dressed as Nazi soldiers and hasidic Jews accompanying the float.

The people of Aalst were sending a very clear message to their Jewish neighbors: Even the vilest, most shameful anti-Semitic depictions are no longer beyond the pale.  This contemporary manifestation of the world’s oldest hatred is incrementally and undeniably making its way from the periphery of society to the very core.

We Shouldn’t Be Startled

We shouldn’t be altogether startled by Belgium’s ho-hum attitude towards the demonization of its Jewish citizens.  When Hitler ascended to power in 1933, a significant number of Jews fled Germany only to find Belgium’s borders closed to these refugees.  In the war itself, more than half of Belgium’s 50,000 Jews perished in the Nazi concentration camps and Belgian historians admit that many Belgians enthusiastically cooperated in the extermination program, often exceeding the Nazis’ demands.

In recent years, anti-Semitic acts continue to rise dramatically, oftentimes rising by more than 50% compared to the previous year.

Besides the generations-old anti-Semitic scourge to be found amongst ‘native’ Belgians, we must also acknowledge the implications of a growing Muslim community.  Whereas the Muslim population in Belgium in 1999 totalled approximately 266,000, there are now more than 650,000 Muslims in Belgium compared to just 35,000 Jews. Given the Muslims’ fertility rates, it is estimated that Belgium’s Muslim population will exceed 1.1 million by 2030 by which time the Jewish population will likely be at or near the current level.

It is certainly true that the majority of Muslims are prepared to live in peace with their Jewish countrymen, but it is also true that although only a small percentage of the Muslims embrace Islamist/anti-Semitic sentiments, that small percentage can translate into a significant number with a quickly-growing Muslim population.  It is simply inconceivable that Jews will enjoy a secure and valued position in Belgian society when they’ll be outnumbered by a Muslim population more than 30 times their size, and in a country that has never showed any great affection for its Jews even before the Muslim influx.

It’s 1933 all over again in Europe, and I can only pray that Belgium’s Jews leave for more hospitable havens. If Jeremy Corbyn triumphs in Great Britain’s next election, hopefully there will be room in those outbound aircraft for England’s Jews as well.

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Article by Henry Roth

Henry Roth was born in Haifa and immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s. The son of Romanian Holocaust survivors, he has been married to Brenda for 43 years, is the father of two sons, Marc and David, the happy grandfather of Nicolas and a proud and loud Zionist.