Op-Ed: Interview: Belgium's New Prime Minister and the Jews
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
“Belgium is a country with a complex political system that is difficult to analyze. It is a federal state and there are tensions between its two major
populations, the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons.
Now, 540 days after the last parliamentary elections, the Wallonian Socialist leader Elio di Rupo has been appointed prime minister of a broad six-partcoalition. An analysis of his and his party’s hostile attitude toward Israel for many years already, makes it easier to understand how he might conduct
himself in future.”
Jehudi Kinar was the Israeli Ambassador to Belgium and Luxemburg from 2003 until the end of 2007. Before that, he had foreign postings in the
Netherlands, Germany, the United States, and Canada.
“The Socialist Party (PS) is currently the dominant party in Wallonia. Di Rupo was a big disappointment for me, yet I should have known better. After he returned from Israel in 1999 when he was Prime Minister of the Walloon Region Di Rupo said that he ‘had not known that there are poor Jews’.
During our first meeting I complained that while the Flemish Parliament maintained commercial and cultural treaties with Israel, similar agreements had been rejected by the Walloon and Brussels Parliaments.Wallonia had however, such agreements with Libya and Cuba. Di Rupo answered that he would correct this after the elections; yet he did nothing.
“We had several other bad experiences with the Socialists. In 2001, a politically motivated court case was brought against Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon and Israeli Generals Rafael Eitan and Amos Yaron, regarding their alleged involvement in the murders of Palestinians by Christian militia in the Lebanese refugee camps Sabra and Shatilla. We won in the District Court.
Then in 2003, the Wallonian and Flemish Socialists, the Greens and the CDH – a Wallonian former Christian party — passed a rare retroactive change of law in the Senate which enabled prosecution of non-Belgian citizens for crimes committed elsewhere.
“After the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in 2006, Di Rupo came out with a press release claiming Israel used this as a pretext to start a war against
Lebanon. The Israeli Embassy responded by pointing out that the PS had never condemned rocket attacks from Gaza at the citizens of Sderot.
Di Rupo later declared that he would continue his political line toward Israel ‘despite the arrogant letter from the Israeli Ambassador.’ That letters
from the Israeli Ambassador did not deserve a response, was a trademark of the PS.
“Another powerful figure in the party is Laurette Onkelinckx, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister. We met a number of times. She promised me she would speak with Di Rupo, as she could not believe that my letter had not been answered. Onkelinckx assumed there had been a technical glitch. When we did not receive an answer from Di Rupo, I sent her a letter. She did not acknowledge it. In the new government she will be Minister for Social Affairs and Health, and again Deputy Prime Minister.
“Andre Flahaut, then-Defense Minister, was particularly problematic. He will continue as Chairman of the Chamber. Flahaut was always available for meetings, yet came out with very strong anti-Israeli statements. In later years, he also took part in anti-Israeli demonstrations. Meetings with him were important because Belgium had soldiers in the UNIFIL force in Lebanon. Like many politicians from various parties, Flahaut was surrounded by anti-Israeli advisers. Several had close advisers with Muslim backgrounds.
“A case apart is Philippe Moureaux, a former Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and now Mayor of St.-Jans-Molenbeek. For years he asked the Israeli Embassy to provide Palestinian children from Bethlehem and Ramallah with exit visas so they could spend their vacations in Belgium. When I asked Moreaux why he did not organize a common visit for those children together with Jewish children from Sderot, he did not answer. A year later when he repeated his request, we asked the same question and got no reply. In June 2010, this not-so-young Mayor (seventy-two) married Latifa Benaicha, who is of Muslim background.
“The most extreme anti-Israeli in the PS is Senator Pierre Galand. He has initiated many anti-Israeli motions in the Senate. He also heads various
anti-Israel organizations such as the Belgian-Palestinian Association and the Lay Action Center. Galand was also Secretary General of OXFAM Belgium during the period 1967-1996. Veronique De Keyser, a European PS Parliamentarian, once declared that she wanted to strangle the Israeli Ambassador. Many people thought she meant me. As she is a member of the European Parliament, I can clarify that she referred to my colleague who was the Israeli Ambassador to the EU.”
Kinar concludes: "Perhaps miracles do happen and the attitudes and manners of the Wallonian Socialists will improve now they head the government.
Fortunately enough some ministers from other coalition parties have a positive attitude toward Israel."