The Obsessive Belgian Anti-Israel Bias
The Obsessive Belgian Anti-Israel Bias

Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Joël Kotek

“The obsessive Belgian anti-Israelism originates from three easily identifiable factors, as I pointed out years ago.

The first one combines the Christian anti-Semitic belief with the progressive tradition which identifies ‘the Jewish spirit’ with capitalism.

A second factor is the neurotic memory of the Shoah and its associated feelings of guilt. This is prevalent in Flanders due to their major war-time collaboration with the German occupiers.

A third factor is the anti-Semitism imported with the Muslim immigration. To obtain the votes of these newcomers and their descendants, Belgian politicians accommodate them by promoting anti-Israel policies.  

"Anti-Zionism has become a civil religion in Belgium. Its credo is that the Palestinians are always right and that the Israelis are always wrong. Its bible could read that everything that happens in the Middle East is the fault of Israel.”

Prof. Joël Kotek, a political scientist, teaches at the Free University of Brussels and at Sciences Po in Paris, France’s leading university of Social Sciences. The Coordination Committee of the Belgian Jewish Organizations (CCOJB) recently published his analysis of how Israel is portrayed in the French-speaking Belgian media.[1]

“Society’s anti-Zionism is reinforced in the media by additional factors. The correspondents in Israel of the French-speaking Belgian press are only paid if their articles are published. So why should they waste their time and energy writing about positive events, such as an Israeli scientific discovery? The article will be rejected by the editors and they will not receive any payment.

A broadcast... began by showing the dead bodies of Palestinian children. Thereafter it presented, out of context, unrelated pictures of Israeli soldiers singing and dancing.
“The media’s treatment of Israel’s 2014 Protective Edge Campaign has once again proven its bias. The Palestinian-Israeli conflicts are presented by many reporters as attacks on innocent Palestinian civilians – and children in particular -- by bloodthirsty Israeli soldiers.

“One among many examples of major bias was a broadcast of August 4, 2014, by RBTF, the public television station of French speaking Belgium. It began by showing the dead bodies of Palestinian children. Thereafter it presented, out of context, unrelated pictures of Israeli soldiers singing and dancing.

“This is propaganda using an old cinema trick of editing pictures and creating new meaning by placing unrelated frames in sequence. This is known as the Kuleshov effect, after the Soviet Russian moviemaker Lev Kuleshov, whose work became known at the beginning of the twentieth century.   

“However, when these same media report about some of the (real) mass murders taking place elsewhere in the Middle East, their approach is always ‘chaste’ and ‘responsible.’ The frequent murders of Muslims by other Muslims are cleaned up and sanitized. The media show air bombardments or combat scenes, but rarely any victims, be they combatants or civilians. One might define it as ‘Muslim barbarianism remains blurred’.

“The excessive media attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been researched by Belgian communications expert Professor Marc Lits. He found that in 2002, the RTBF and another French speaking station, RTL-TV1, devoted 24% of their news broadcasts to the Middle East. No other region of the world reached even 10%. Within the Middle East region, reports on Israel represented almost 88%, thus many times the amount of all other Middle East countries put together. Israel alone thus represented more than 20% of all the stations’ newscasts.

“If we were to compare the civilian losses caused by the Israeli army in  defense of the country to those caused by the wars in Syria and Iraq, one discovers that in the latter, more than a hundred times more people were killed. During World War II, twenty thousand French civilians were killed in the Allied bombardments of Normandy before the landing of the Allied forces. Thirty thousand enemy civilians were killed in Dresden by the Allies. These examples among many show the media’s bias when it concerns the Israeli army. Of course, any loss of civilian life should be disapproved of. Any war is dirty by definition.  In Protective Edge about two thousand people were killed, half of which were Palestinian combatants.

“A crucial factor is the media’s frequent omission of the fundamental characteristics of Hamas, the largest Palestinian political movement. Its Charter tells that Hamas is a genocidal Islamo-fascist movement. The journalist who omits this fact in his reports manipulates the news substantially.

“There are important sociological and ideological factors which play a role in maintaining the bias. They originate from both the extreme left and the extreme right. This bias plays into the worries of modern Belgian society, including its general disillusionment, the impacts of globalization and anti-capitalism and the consequences of minorities’ failure to integrate within the general culture. The anti-Zionism thus serves a variety of causes across the Belgian population - among the right and the left, among Catholics and secularists, and among Walloons and Flemish.”

According to Kotek, Belgium belongs to the group of the most anti-Israeli countries within Europe. “That includes countries such as Norway, Sweden and Ireland. The bias of the Belgian press goes beyond that of the French, Italian or even to the English media. In reporting the 2014 armed conflict concerning Gaza, most English, French and Italian journalists were not pro-Israeli. Yet they usually showed more balance in their reporting than most of their Belgian colleagues.

“The biased and negative image of Israel that our media have constructed over the years is not simply a minor contributor to the unhealthy climate concerning Israel that exists in Belgium. It is not an exaggeration to state that our media act as facilitators of anti-Semitism.

“The concept was developed by the French intellectual Jean-Christophe Rufin in his famous 2004 report on anti-Semitism, conducted upon the request of the French Ministry of the Interior. Concerning anti-Semitic acts, Rufin defines three levels of responsibility: perpetrators of violence, manipulators (ideologues, political networks or terrorists) and the facilitators, who, via their opinion – or their silence – legitimize the move to action.” 

Kotek concludes: “My thesis is heavy with meaning. The consequences of the media’s development of anti-Israeli sentiment for more than 30 years is just as heavy. If Israel did even remotely resemble the caricature which the media constantly portrays, all people of good faith, from Antwerp to Brussels, should oppose this enemy of humankind, and why not with a Kalashnikov in hand!“


[1] Joël Kotek, “Israël et les médias belges francophones,” Comité de Coordination des Organisations Juives de Belgique (CCOJB,) préface de Maurice Sosnowski et Serge Rozen, postface Willy Wolsztajn, Brussels, March 2015.