Ms Natasha Mann, a reporter for the Belgian broadcaster RTBF was preparing a report on antisemitism in Belgium. As part of the report, Ms Mann wanted to have a visual of a Jewish volunteer being seen in Brussels wearing a yarmulke. However, for fear of being attacked, she was unable to find any volunteers from the Jewish community.
The reluctance for Jews publicly identify as such is not new. For the last ten years, many observant Jews in Brussels have been wearing caps or hats to avoid being seen publicly as Jews. This reluctance has come because of a steady rise in antisemitic incidents over the last decade, not just in Belgium, but as a rising trend sweeping across Europe. This was confirmed by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who recognized that “we’ve seen an increase in antisemitic incidents all across Europe.” The Belgian Prime Minister’s resolve to quash antisemitism remains resolute: “our solidarity in the fight against antisemitism is uncompromised and unequivocal.”
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s words do not echo the sentiments felt amongst the Jewish community in Belgium. After three weeks of looking for a Jewish volunteer to be part of the report, Ms Mann had to give up. The reason being that the Jewish community is so afraid of vocal antisemites that not even the community leaders were willing to participate.
Ms Mann contacted several Rabbis. However, after finding out which neighbourhood she wanted the project to take place in, they declined. Joel Rubinfield, the president of the Belgian league against antisemitism, agreed to do the story, but only if he were escorted by a security officer; due to logistical issues this did not happen. The story ran without the visual Mann wanted: a dark reminder of how fearful the Jewish community in Belgium is today.
The tragic situation currently facing the Jewish community in Belgium was perhaps most aptly summarised by an anonymous Jewish individual, who Ms Mann had asked to volunteer for the visual. He said he was sick of being harassed for being a Jew; Ms Mann asked him, “Do you complain to police when you hear antisemitic insults?”, to which he responded: “Do you complain to police when men whistle at you in the street?” sadly highlighting how common and trivialized these attacks have become in Belgian society.