Controversy Over Whether Brussels Attack 'Anti-Semitic'
France's President Francois Hollande said on Sunday there was no doubt about the "anti-Semitic character" of the attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium which left three dead, including a Frenchwoman.
"The anti-Semitic character of this act, a shooting in the Jewish museum in Brussels with the intention to kill, is in no doubt," said Hollande, speaking in his southwestern political stronghold of Tulle where he went to vote in the European elections.
A gunman entered Brussels' Jewish Museum Saturday afternoon and began shooting, killing three people - a young French woman, and Emmanuel and Miriam Riva, 54 and 53, from Tel Aviv.
A national manhunt has begun for the shooter; local police are still looking for possible suspects, official announced Sunday morning, despite at least one arrest shortly after the shooting.
It was the first fatal attack on a Jewish center since the early 1980s in Belgium, home to some 40,000 Jews. Roughly half live in Brussels and the remainder in Antwerp.
Several Jewish leaders have fiercely condemned the attacks, warning as well of growing anti-Semitism in Europe.
However, authorities have hesitated to instantly label the attack as a specific act of anti-Semitism.
Interior Minister Joelle Milquet stated late Saturday that while "there are strong grounds for presuming so," there is not enough information about the shooter or the motive to make a full confirmation of the shooting as a hate crime. However, officials have stated that an investigation has indicated that the attack was "murder with premeditation."
The Belgium public prosecutor's office said Sunday that it had no grounds at this stage to state whether an attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a terrorist or anti-Semitic act.
Saying that there was no claim so far, deputy public prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch said: "I cannot confirm that it is a terrorist or anti-Semitic act" and added that "all leads remain open."
But the anti-Semitic nature of the attack is obvious to Jewish leaders, who instantly slammed what many perceive to be growing tolerance for anti-Semitic hate crimes in Europe.
Joel Rubinfeld, head of Belgium's Anti-Semitism League, told AFP shortly after the attack that it was "clearly a terrorist act" and condemned the "climate of hate."
European Jewish Council (EJC) President Dr. Moshe Cantor agreed.
"While we don’t not yet have full information regarding the background to this attack, we are acutely aware of the permanent threat to Jewish targets in Belgium and across the whole of Europe," Cantor stated Saturday night. "European governments must send out a clear message of zero tolerance towards any manifestation of anti-Semitism."
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released an official statement condemning the attack as a "tragic reminder of the frightening atmosphere for Jews in parts of Europe" Saturday night - and urging the international community to stop anti-Semitism as a uniquely European phenomenon.
"We know that while the overall number of recorded anti-Semitic attacks in parts of Europe where reliable statistics are available may have gone down in the past year, at the same time the number of violent incidents against Jews has actually increased," ADL National Director Abraham Foxman stated.
"The rise in Europe of openly anti-Semitic political parties, the proliferation of clearly anti-Semitic expressions on social media platforms and the disturbingly high levels of anti-Semitic attitudes in many places in Europe contribute to a witches’ brew of hate in which those who are inclined to engage in violence against Jews can find encouragement."