There were reports of violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Muslims and Jews during the year. Except for anti-Semitic incidents, which it defined as incidents against Jewish persons rather than against the practice of the Jewish religion and tracked separately, Unia reported 319 complaints of religious discrimination or harassment in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 390 complaints in 2016. Approximately 85 percent of incidents targeted Muslims. There were 10 incidents against Christians, five against Jewish religious practice, and three against nonbelievers. According to Unia, 39.5 percent of the complaints in 2017 involved speech in media or on the internet (half of these media/internet complaints involved Facebook), 26 percent concerned discrimination in the workplace, and 11 percent occurred in the education sector (where a plurality of incidents involved restrictions or prohibitions on wearing of the hijab). Unia also preliminarily reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, one of the highest totals in recent years, and 80 percent more than the 56 incidents reported in 2017. The report did not cite details of any of the incidents. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in the media and in schools during the year, including ones related to the Holocaust.
On July 3, two persons assaulted a Muslim woman in Anderlues, pulling off her headscarf and some clothes, including her bra, calling her a “dirty Arab,” knocking her to the ground, and then cutting her body, forming the shape of a cross. Police said they were investigating and did not disclose information on the victim’s condition.
In December according to press reports, a man in Anderlecht punched a Muslim woman wearing a hijab on the street. The footage was shared on the internet, and the woman called on the authorities to find her attacker. The Muslim Executive condemned the attack as “Islamophobic.”
In October a man in Marchienne-au-Pont threatened a Jewish couple and their son in front of their home with a gun, saying he would shoot the woman in the head. The man had reportedly threatened the woman the week prior before the incident. Following the second incident, an unidentified person fired a shot from a vehicle in front of the Jewish couple’s home.
In July the same woman stated that she and her family had become the target of harassment after neighbors discovered the family was Jewish. The woman said death threats had been stuffed into their mailbox and anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled on their front door. She reported one letter called her “a dirty whore.” The family complained to the police, who had not identified any suspects.
In February according to press reports, police said that an incident earlier that month in which a car nearly ran down an Orthodox Jewish man and his son was not anti-Semitic, contradicting a statement by the Belgian League Against anti-Semitism. Security cameras showed the car jumping the curb and swerving towards the father and son, who were dressed in Hasidic garb. Police reportedly charged the driver with driving while intoxicated.
Also in February police briefly detained a man described as a refugee after security camera footage showed him destroying at least 20 mezuzahs in Antwerp and vandalizing the doorways of several Jewish institutions. Additional footage showed the man placing a Quran near a synagogue and knocking the hat off an Orthodox Jew on the street. Police released the man without charging him.
Unia reported 82 complaints of workplace discrimination based on religion in 2017, compared with 88 in the previous year. The main target of reported discriminations were Muslims.
According to Unia, NGOs, and media, incidents of religious discrimination towards Muslims in both the workplace and educational institutions typically involved actions directed against women wearing headscarves and a failure to make accommodations for prayer, religious holidays, or dietary requirements.
In October the National Secretary for Culture of the ACOD public service trade union, Robrecht Vanderbeeken, wrote an article for online alternative media site De Wereld Morgen accusing Israel of starving and poisoning Gaza and kidnapping and murdering children for their organs. Wilfried Van Hoof, a private citizen, filed a complaint with Unia against Vanderbeeken.
In May, according to press reports, police authorities transferred a Brussels senior police officer from his post while they investigated reports the officer had engaged in Holocaust denial and insulted Jewish subordinates. At year’s end the investigation was ongoing.
In May the League Against Anti-Semitism filed a complaint of anti-Semitism involving testimony from multiple witnesses against the head of the canine police unit in the Midi police zone of the Brussels-Capital Region. One report stated he broadcast Nazi songs and shouted that the Nazi extermination camps and gas chambers were lies.
According to Flemish and Francophone news media, including the news service of public broadcaster VRT and newspaper De Standaard, the group Schild & Vrienden (Shield & Friends) was an extreme right-wing movement that portrayed itself as a conservative, family-values, Flemish national group but was secretly seeking to influence social and political circles with an agenda that included anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim messages and Nazi propaganda. Journalists stated young people in the group were driving the movement and organizing training and camps abroad. News articles cited boot camps with close combat and weapons training, as well as political outreach training. Reportedly, the group’s leadership instructed members that their activities should remain nonviolent during organization-sponsored events. Media also reported the group circulated anti-Semitic messages and that Ghent University suspended its leader, Dries Van Langenhove.
According to a report in the newspaper La Libre, Arabic-language training manuals for imams used in the Islamic and Cultural Center of Belgium, which included the Grand Mosque of Brussels, contained incitements to violence against Druze and Alawite religious minorities and hatred of Jews. One manual referred to the fictitious and anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The newspaper cited as a source a report for a parliamentary review committee by the government’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis issued in February and covering 2016-17.
In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 785 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Belgium responded to the online survey. Twenty-eight percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 39 percent reported being harassed over the same period. One-quarter of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 87 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
In November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a monument commemorating Holocaust victims was vandalized in Ghent.
Anti-Semitic comments appeared on Google Business and “Jews of Antwerp” Facebook pages in November.
In April Prime Minister Charles Michel joined Jewish groups, including the European Jewish Congress, in expressing regret at the Free University of Brussels’s decision to award British filmmaker Ken Loach an honorary doctorate. Speaking about the award at Brussels’ Grand Synagogue, Michel said, “No accommodation with anti-Semitism can be tolerated.” According to press reports, some critics accused Loach, a longtime Palestinian advocate and critic of Israel, of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial after remarks he made during an interview in 2017. Loach strongly denied he was anti-Semitic, calling the charge “malicious.” The Free University stood by its decision to honor Loach and issued a statement by Loach in which he said the Holocaust was real and “not to be doubted.”
In August the Brussels public transportation authority dismissed an employee after it discovered he had Nazi tattoos on his arm.
In May an Antwerp court sentenced a man to five months in prison and fined him 300 euros ($340) for Holocaust denial for statements he had made at his workplace in 2016.
In June an Antwerp court sentenced a man to a partially suspended sentence of 18 months in prison and a 1,600 euro ($1,800) fine for incitement to hatred, harassment, and vandalism with racist intent against Jews and Jewish symbols. Media reports did not provide further details about the case.