Belgium under fire over policy towards Israel

Mark Geleyn,a former Belgian ambassador to Israel, has condemned Belgium's policy towards Israel as “not the attitude of a friend.”

Geleyn was speaking in Brussels this week at a conference on diversity along with ambassadors and diplomats from 10 other countries.

He said Belgium was an  anti-Israel country that, unlike most others in western Europe, has not opposed the 'Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)' movement.

Geleyn is honorary president of Belgian Friends of Israel and a former ambassador of Belgium to Israel and Germany.

He said, “After the creation of the state of Israel, the first Jews of Belgium, survivors of the Great Persecution, left our country to become citizens of the new state. By obtaining Israeli nationality, they would lose their Belgian nationality. But the survival of the new state, and its citizens, was very uncertain. Then the Belgian government at the time, rue de Loi (prime minister) and rue Quatre Bras (foreign affairs), decided that the Jews who were making aliyah and becoming Israeli citizens could, in fact, retain their Belgian nationality. No-one knew if they would ever come back. Thus the possession of dual nationality, so common now, originated in Belgian law. Belgium, and its government, was a friend of Israel."

He went on, “In the seventies, many Soviet Jews wanted to leave the Soviet Union. Two or three international conferences were organized to help them claim their right of emigration. One of these conferences, under the slogan LET MY PEOPLE GO, was held in Brussels, in the very room where you are now. It required a certain diplomatic courage on the part of the Belgian government vis-à-vis the powerful Soviet Union to host this conference in Belgium. Belgium, and its government, was a friend of Israel.

"In the 1980s, Israel initiated Operation Moses to bring Jews from Ethiopia back to Israel. At first, these plane transfers were done in secret. With SABENA aircraft. Belgium, and its government, was a friend of Israel.”

Geleyn said, “When in the past, government officials or officials visited Israel, they were invited to plant a tree, and all did so and regarded it as an honour. Because Belgium, and its government was a friend of Israel.

"But things have since changed a lot. When those in authority today visit Israel, they hesitate to accept an invitation to plant a tree, because they want to avoid the Zionist symbolism that planting a tree might imply. This is exactly the opposite of the attitude of which the former generation was proud. It is not the attitude of a friend.

“The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance was founded at the end of the last century, following an initiative by the then Swedish Prime Minister. This organization wanted to keep alive the memory of the Shoah, including supporting educational programs. Almost all European countries joined. It took a few years before the Belgian government also wanted to join. That organization also worked out a definition of anti-Semitism, using a dozen examples, and that included the way Israel is treated in international organizations. Belgium was initially the only country to oppose any reference to Israel. And although the definition has since been adopted, mentioning Israel remains a point of friction for some countries, including Belgium. That is not the attitude of a friend.

"You have heard of the BDS movement, the movement that seeks to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel. In the beginning it was a game at chic American universities, but is now a fairly broad movement that has found its way into Western Europe. All heads of government of our neighboring countries, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, France even have a law, all have explicitly condemned BDS, either in speeches or in written positions. Often also the parliament.”

 He said, “Since 2000, no Belgian Prime Minister has mentioned BDS. Hence there has been no condemnation of it. That happened very deliberately. That is not the attitude of a friend.

“Our country is an exception here in Europe. We want the new prime minister to change this. But there are friends of Israel. It is balm on our soul to see you so numerous. It fills us with great pleasure. Tonight we want to show that Israel is not an ideological fighting concept, but a country that in all its exceptionalness is also an ordinary country, that embraces ALL its citizens, of whatever nature, religion, language or background, in a joint project of well-being and harmony.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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