Haredi drops out of Belgian elections race over fraud conviction

Critics charge refusal to shake hands with women inconsistent with party policies on integrating Muslims and duty to live by Belgian norms.

JTA ,

Belgium
Belgium
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A haredi Jew from the Belgian city of Antwerp withdrew his candidacy in a local election amid criticism over his fraud conviction and refusal to shake hands with women.

Aron Berger announced last week he is withdrawing his candidacy for a seat on the city legislature representing the Christian Democratic and Flemish party. Antwerp, home to a predominantly haredi Jewish community of 18,000, is the capital of The Flemish Region – one of three autonomous states that make up the federal kingdom. Municipal elections there are scheduled for October.

The Correctional Tribunal of Antwerp last month convicted Berger, who was expected to occupy the party’s ninth slot in a bid to appeal to haredi voters, of stealing almost $34,000 from an older and “vulnerable” person, according to the Knack news website. Berger cited “sensitivities” around his candidacy.

Before Berger’s conviction came to light, Berger’s critics within his center-right party and beyond charged that his refusal to shake hands with women was inconsistent with the party’s strict policies on integration of Muslims into society and their duty to live by Belgian norms.

Berger said he had obtained the permission of his wife and rabbinical leaders to shake hands with women during the campaign to defuse this point of criticism, the report said. But he maintained “it is not within my faith” to shake hands with a woman.

Asked about the scandal surrounding Berger, Kris Peters, a former Flemish prime minister and Christian Democratic and Flemish party’s candidate for mayor of Antwerp, told the Gazet van Antwerpen daily last week that the Jewish community had recommended Berger. But all the leaders of the Jewish community denied this.

“Aron Berger was put forth by the Jewish community itself,” Peters said. “This man was appointed by his whole community as a spokesperson.”

But in an open letter to the Gazet van Antwerpen, the chairmen of the Machsike Hadas and the Shomre Hadas communities, Pinkas Kornfeld and Laurent Trau, respectively, flatly denied this, Joods Actueel reported Sunday.

The boards of neither congregation – by far the main ones within the haredi community of Antwerp – were “aware of this candidacy,” the chairmen wrote. “By the way, the Jewish communities never in their history put forth a candidate in their name.”



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