Belgian government official who called Israel ‘identical twin’ of ISIS resigns


A Belgian official who compared Israel to Nazi Germany and the Islamic State is no longer employed as a minister’s adviser on tolerance.

Youssef Kobo, the adviser on diversity for the minister in charge of equal opportunity in the regional government of Brussels, offered to resign after finding he could no longer fulfill his duties, a ministry spokesperson told the HLN news website on Monday.

Last month, Kobo apologized for his vitriol against Israel, which he said was a modern Nazi Germany and “an identical twin” of the Islamic State terrorist group.

The Muslim official said he was “young and stupid” when he wrote the Facebook posts in 2014, which Kobo said he “regrets,” the La Capitale daily reported. The newspaper had contacted Kobo, 28, following criticism by the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.

However, in recent days the Belgian media discovered earlier tweets in which Kobo proposed to slaughter activists working to prevent the ritual slaughter of animals.

“What if we compromise on slaughtering Gaia-activists instead of sheep?” he wrote, later dismissing the post as an inappropriate joke. Gaia is the mythological spirit of Earth.

Kobo had referenced the Islamic State in posting a caricature of Israel cutting the throat of the Gaza Strip, where Israel in the summer of 2014 carried out strikes against the Hamas terrorist group. Kobo said of a video of Israeli troops: “21st century Nazis.”

He told La Capitale that he was “very emotional” following the strikes in Gaza, which followed rocket fire by Hamas on Israel.

Kobo works for a minister in the government of one of the three autonomous regions that make up the federal kingdom of Belgium.

Bart de Wever, the mayor of Antwerp, which is the capital of Belgium’s Flemish Region, in July told the Joods Actueel Jewish monthly he finds Kobo’s appointment “troubling” also because Kobo, according to de Wever, recently published a tweet about the shooting of police officers in the United States in which he wrote “a shot for a shot.”

De Wever said it means Kobo justifies the shootings as retribution for perceived police brutality, especially against blacks.

Joel Rubinfeld, the president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, said Kobo’s statements make him unfit to advise on tolerance and especially on anti-Semitism.

“He can’t be both fireman and fire starter,” Rubinfeld told La Capitale.

Rubinfeld noted that Israel is connected to the phenomenon often called “new anti-Semitism,” in which anti-Israel sentiment becomes a veil for anti-Semitism. In France, Belgium and the Netherlands, most anti-Semitic assaults are by people with a Muslim background, watchdogs in those countries have said.

Echoing the position of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Rubinfeld said “Anti-Zionism is but modern anti-Semitism, where hatred for the Jewish state substitutes hatred of the Jew.”

Ritual slaughter ban would be unconstitutional, Belgian state body says


A Belgian government advisory body determined that any legislation that would prohibit ritual slaughter in the kingdom would violate its constitution.

The legal notice issued Wednesday by the Belgian Council of State came amid recent debates and planned legislation to ban the practice. The animal welfare minister in the government of the Flemish Region said last month it should be outlawed.

Religious laws in Islam and Judaism require animals be conscious when their necks are slit, though some religious leaders from both faiths allow stunning immediately after the cut. Many animal rights activists say the lack of stunning is cruel. Their opponents maintain ritual slaughter is more humane because it is not mechanized and less prone to accidents resulting in animal suffering.

In addition, many opponents of Muslim immigration and presence in Europe also oppose by extension the proliferation of Muslim slaughter, which has fewer restrictions on how it needs to be performed and by whom than the Jewish method, called shechitah.

In May, the Green Party of the Flemish Region — one of three entities that make up the federal kingdom of Belgium – filed a draft bill to the parliament commission on animal welfare. Amid opposition to the bill, the issue was brought to the review of the Council of State, which determined that if passed, a law banning the practice would be overturned by the country’s federal constitutional court because it would violate religious freedoms, the Jewish monthly Joods Actueel of Antwerp reported.

The animal welfare minister, Ben Weyts of the New Flemish Alliance, a center-right movement and the Flemish Region’s ruling party, vowed to keep fighting for a blanket ban on ritual slaughter and said he was disappointed by the legal notice.

Last month, Weyts said he blamed Muslim faith leaders for a situation that he said now requires a ban. He said they were intransigent when tried to reach compromises with them on ritual slaughter, particularly of mobile slaughtering areas set up on Muslim holidays.

Michael Freilich, editor-in-chief of Joods Actueel, said in an editorial Wednesday that compromises can be made on the part of faith communities, particularly on limiting the slaughter to qualified slaughterers with the expertise to prevent animal suffering. For Jewish communities worldwide, such limitations are a reality, with certified shochets doing the work based on training. But in Muslim communities, it is customary for untrained family heads to perform the butchering.

Notwithstanding, Freilich wrote, if Weyts refuses to recognizes constitutional limitations of the Belgian kingdom, “perhaps is it better if he resigns.”

IDF band’s European tour takes nasty turn after Gaza operation


As they prepared last week for their annual concert tour of Europe, members of the Israel Defense Forces band probably had little inkling of what was about to hit them.

Within hours of their departure, their comrades began striking Gaza in retaliation for months of rocket fire and their country found itself the target of protests across the continent. Palestinian militants responded by upping the barrage, sending rockets deep into Israel and triggering air raid sirens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the first time in two decades.

Instead of the pleasant week of music and shopping the band was likely expecting, they faced a bomb threat and several protest rallies, angry demonstrators calling them “stinking murderers” and the constant presence of police guards.

On Sunday, the band arrived for a concert in Antwerp to find more than a hundred protesters shouting “Hamas, Hamas, all the Jews to the gas” outside the venue, according to the Belgian Jewish journalist Michael Freilich, who was present. A group of neo-Nazis protested as well.

Later, as the concert was underway, someone reported to police that a powerful explosive would soon be detonated at the Provinciehuis concert hall. The crowd of 300 was evacuated and the concert brought to an abrupt end. No explosives were found.

“First the Israeli ambassador was evacuated, and then the band got out and boarded their bus as the building was emptied,” Freilich said. “I told the officer the bomb threat was an obvious hoax. He agreed but said the evacuation was protocol.”

After Antwerp, the band traveled to The Hague, where a predominantly Arab crowd of a few dozen protesters was waiting for them.

“For us, this is the frontline and this is the fire, and as Israeli soldiers, we don’t run when under fire,” an unnamed Israeli musician told the Belgian Jewish magazine Joods Actueel. “I filmed the demonstrators in Antwerp to show family and friends back home that we are also fighting for Israel.”

The European tour is a yearly affair for the IDF orchestra. Last year, protesters greeted them as well, but only a fraction of the number.

“I heard there might be protests, but I didn’t take it seriously because last year only 18 protesters showed up,” said Leo Schumer, the treasurer of B’nai B’rith Antwerp, who organized the Belgian concert with the local chapter of Christians for Israel, an international organization based in the Netherlands. “I guess they all came because of the operation in Gaza.”

Outside the Hague concert, protesters were virulent in their opposition to the Jewish state.

“There shouldn’t be a State of Israel or an Israeli army to begin with,” Zeina Khoury, a music student and member of the Palestine Youth Orchestra, told JTA. “The thought of them singing while their army is killing babies in Gaza is too crazy for words.”

Another protester, Kemal Keman, told JTA, “If I see a Jewish soldier, I don't know what I would do to them.”

Inside the hall, the scene couldn't have been more different. As two guards manned the flanks of the stage and several others kept watch nearby, a crowd of about 500 — many of them draped in Israeli flags — watched the band work through its repertoire, a mix of English and Hebrew songs, including a stirring rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah.”

“Part of the reason I am here is because of what happened in Antwerp,” said Kees van der Staaij, a lawmaker of the Reformed Political Party, “to show that the people of Israel have many friends here.”

The audience, which had paid $15 for tickets and donated thousands more to aid Israelis under fire from Hamas, showered the players with affection.

During a pause in the performance, a YouTube clip by Dr. Elisheva Ronen, a Dutch-born pediatrician who lives in Ashkelon, was projected on a screen. In the clip, which has become a Facebook hit, Ronen filmed rockets falling near her home as sirens wailed in the background. Ronen then took the stage and, choking back emotion, thanked the audience for their prayers.

Sara van Oordt of Christians for Israel then asked the audience to donate money for charitable projects in Israel’s South. Within 20 minutes, $15,000 had been collected.

Haredi politician’s failure to shake hands riles female Belgian minister


Belgium’s health minister said she was “profoundly troubled” by the behavior of her Israeli counterpart, Yaakov Litzman, after the haredi Orthodox minister refused to shake her hand at a conference.

Litzman, Israel’s deputy minister for health, belongs to the haredi Torah Judaism party and considers it forbidden to touch members of the opposite sex.

“My hands are clean!” read a text that appeared on the official Facebook site of the Belgian health minister Laurette Onkelinx. “This is the second time a minister refuses to shake my hand because I am a woman. The first was Iranian. The second one was the Israeli health minister here in Geneva. This kind of fundamentalist attitude, connected to a certain perception of religion and women, profoundly troubles me.”

Litzman and Onkelinx met Wednesday at the annual World Health Assembly. Onkelinx belongs to the Francophone Belgian Socialist Party, the party of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

“The minister’s childish reaction demonstrates her ignorance,” said Michael Freilich, editor in chief of Joods Actueel, Belgium’s largest Jewish publication, which reported on the story. “Mr. Litzman’s refusal to shake Ms. Onkelinx’s hand had nothing to do with any view on women or impurity. Ultra-Orthodox women are also forbidden from touching members of the opposite sex. It’s the custom. A more seasoned politician would have been aware of this sensibility in advance.”