Belgian paper demands EU action on Abbas ‘blood libel’


A Jewish newspaper from Belgium urged European leaders to condemn a false statement by Mahmoud Abbas, who spoke in Brussels about Jewish settlers seeking to poison water wells.

The Joods Actueel monthly on Monday published an open letter on the matter by its editor-in-chief, Michael Freilich, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Freilich’s letter was about a June 22 speech by Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, before the European Parliament, in which he said: “Just a week ago, some rabbis rose up in Israel and explicitly announced and demanded of their government that it poison the water in order to kill the Palestinians.”

Abbas’ office later apologized for the reference to wells, which a probe by Israeli media showed was false. It provoked anger because the theme of well-poisoning Jews was frequent motif in mediaeval blood libels against Jews, which often led to deadly pogroms.  Freilich called Abbas’ speech a “blood libel.”

European Parliament  President Martin Schulz, who is German, and Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism, who is also German, did not correct Abbas before or during the speech and have yet to distance their institutions from the claims made in Brussels, where Abbas received a standing ovation, Freilich wrote.

“Painfully, Martin Schulz even published a tweet calling Abbas’ speech ‘inspiring,’” Freilich complained.

Joods Actueel wrote to Merkel after Schulz’s office told the paper: “The content of the address is a total responsibility of the state leaders and the European Parliament is not in a position to censure or to control it.“

Belgian Jews seek neither control nor censorship, he wrote, but they do require an “unambiguous rejection of this anti-Jewish incitement in the heart of Europe.”

Merkel’s office confirmed receiving the letter but will not reply, said Freilich, who subsequently set up an online petition demanding action on Merkel’s part.

Belgian Jewish student ‘gassed’ with deodorant by classmates in showers, says mother


Belgian elementary school students are accused of anti-Semitic bullying of a Jewish classmate, whom they allegedly sprayed with deodorant while he was showering at school to simulate Nazi gas chambers.

The three students told their Jewish classmate they were “gassing” him during the incident, according to his mother.

The Jewish student was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse over the past two years at his elementary school in the Brussels suburb of Braine-le-Chateau, according to a statement Friday by the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism. All the involved students are now 12 years old.

The mother of the alleged victim filed a police complaint last week over the bullying, which she said her son detailed to her. Francis Brancart, an education board official, confirmed Thursday that his office was looking into the matter, which he said may require the opening of an independent inquiry, the news agency Belgareported. He said he could not confirm the veracity of the complaints.

The alleged incident in the showers happened early last year. The three students pressed the deodorant canisters’ nozzles to the boy’s body, his mother said, causing burns and skin irritations on his back. She said it was one of dozens of incidents in which her son was subjected to violence, anti-Semitic jokes and intimidation.

The student complained to faculty but his mother said the teacher in charge ignored the complaints, even after her son asked for and got permission to stay indoors during recess to avoid harassment.

“She downplayed the situation each time we complained,” the mother, who was not named in LBCA and Belga’s reporting, told LBCA of the teacher. “My son is graduating from elementary school and will leave the school, but I am taking these actions so that teachers and the school administration realize they cannot disregard this bullying.”

The principal told Belga she was surprised by the allegations, adding the student in question did not appear to be unhappy, his behavior had not changed over the past two years and he had maintained excellent scholastic performance.

The principal said the teacher handling the mother’s complaint did not relay the anti-Semitic character of the harassment to her. She said the three students involved in the deodorant incident were reprimanded for their behavior, which they said was part of a game.

LBCA president Joel Rubinfeld told Belga he interviewed other students who confirmed the anti-Semitic nature of the “gassing” incident and the recurrence of jokes and taunts referencing the Holocaust in the student’s bullying by the three other classmates.

The case reported last week is one of several recent anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium, including the bullying of a high school student who was forced to change schools amid alleged inaction by the institution where the harassment occurred. Last year, Belgian media reported on the online shaming by classmates of a pro-Israel high school student who also left the public education system for a Jewish school.

Such cases, Rubinfeld said last year, are turning Belgian schools into “Jew-free” zones.

Phone tap led police to Belgian ISIS cell, court hears


A series of bugged, coded communications over two months led Belgian police to storm a suspected Islamic State cell in the town of Verviers last year, thwarting an alleged plot, a Brussels court heard on Monday.

One unidentified conspirator used the cover name “Fatty”; another in the plot which Belgian authorities have said intended to target police officers, went by the handle “Big Lanky”.

Among seven accused present on the first day of a terrorism trial that began in Brussels under heavy security seven weeks after suicide bombers killed 32 people in the capital was Marouan El Bali. He survived the gunfight in January 2015 when police shot dead two armed men who had returned from fighting with IS in Syria.

In summarizing the case against the 16 accused, nine of whom are still at large, the judge offered details of how security services had used telephone taps to help combat a potential threat from more than 300 Belgians who have fought in Syria.

In a tapped call in November 2014 an unidentified man told another who was on a police watchlist: “I've got everything.”

Six months after a first Islamist attack in Belgium, when a Frenchman shot dead four people at Brussels' Jewish Museum, that was enough to set off an intensive monitoring operation. It led to the Verviers raid, a week after Islamist attacks on the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery had shocked Europe.

The judge said investigators had heard cryptic messages, some from Turkey and Greece, to various alleged members of the Belgian cell, including those named Fatty and Big Lanky.

Among those involved was Abdelhamid Abaaoud from Brussels, who fought with Islamic State in Syria and is believed to have been an organizer of several attacks in Europe, including those in Paris last Nov. 13. Abaaoud was killed in a gunbattle with French police five days after militants killed 130 people.

Criticized by some for failing to prevent the March 22 IS suicide bombings at Brussels airport and on the city's metro, Belgian leaders have highlighted the operation at Verviers, a rundown industrial town near German border, as a major success.

As well as the two dead gunmen, both from Brussels' Arab immigrant community, police found assault rifles, bomb-making material and items of Belgian police uniform. Abaaoud later boasted online that he had eluded capture and returned to Syria.

El Bali, who was found in the safehouse, has protested his innocence. His lawyer told reporters outside the court on Monday that he had merely been visiting a childhood friend.

He is accused of being a leader in a terrorist group, attempted murder, making and keeping of bombs and planning an attack on a non-specified building, his lawyer said. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Amid ‘exodus’ from Brussels, my family sings a sad ‘ma nishtana’


I was feeling nervous about coming to Brussels for seder with my family.

Making the 130-mile trip there from my home in Amsterdam meant taking my 5-month-old son on a train that last year saw an attempted jihadist attack, and into a city that is still reeling and on alert from the March 22 Islamist bombings that killed 32 people.

I wasn’t worried about terrorism, though. Having experienced, by the time I turned 19, two intifadas and the Gulf War missile attacks in my native Israel, I was pretty much immune to terrorism’s psychological effects.

No, I fretted over my family’s violent and scary rendition of “Echad Mi Yodea” — the cumulative-verse Passover song that they enjoy hollering, building up to an ecstatic crescendo. By the 13th and final verse, about 35 of them are shrieking, red-faced and hoarse, while pounding fists and cutlery on the table like some prison riot scene.

I have grown immune to this tradition’s psychological effects, too, and on occasion had even used it to test the mental composure of unsuspecting dates. But I feared it would all be too much for little baby Ilai.

Yet as I waited for all hell to break loose last week, I saw my worries were unfounded. My family’s “Echad Mi Yodea” this year was a shadow of its former self in what I suddenly realized was a vivid illustration of the absence of relatives from my age group who, like many Belgian Jews, have left their native country because of its anti-Semitism problem. With each passing year, there were fewer of us around the seder table.

My Belgian relatives have said goodbye to nine young seder rioters over the past 15 years. Six enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and made aliyah. Two immigrated to the United States and one moved to London.

I came to Brussels this year because this seder was the sendoff for a second cousin and his wife, a physician and an architect, who are moving to Florida. His sister and her Belgian Jewish husband already live there.

“This is my last seder as a European,” cousin Mark (not his real name) told me over the phone. We spoke in Hebrew, a language learned by all my Belgian relatives my age at the insistence of aunts and uncles who were born to Holocaust survivors and who always regarded aliyah as a contingency plan in case things went south in Belgium.

“I want you to be there to send me off from slavery to freedom,” Mark said.

He feared for the future of his own two children in a country where Jewish schools are under heavy military guard and where Jewish students are being forced out of public schools because of anti-Semitic bullying.

“Things are bad here and I want a better future for my children,” he told me.

I asked Joel Rubinfeld, the founder of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism and a former president of the CCOJB umbrella of group of French-speaking Belgian Jewish communities, whether my family was unusual when it came to its emigration agenda.

“I’m afraid not,” he said. “There is the beginning of an expedited emigration process. Our only statistical view on it is through aliyah, which tells a very partial story in a community with highly educated members who can settle anywhere in Europe and have little trouble getting visas to the U.S., Canada and Australia.”

In 2014, Rubinfeld warned Belgian Jewry was seeing an “exodus” because of anti-Semitism.

Last year, 287 Jews immigrated to Israel from Belgium, which has a Jewish population of about 40,000. It was the highest figure recorded in a decade. From 2010 to 2015, an average of 234 Belgian Jews made aliyah annually — a 56 percent increase over the annual average of 133 new arrivals from Belgium in 2005-2009, according to Israeli government data.

Unlike French Jews, who tend to speak only one native language, Belgian Jews speak two and often three languages fluently. This could mean Belgian Jews have an easier time than their French counterparts immigrating to destinations that are not Israel.

Linda, Mark’s sister, moved to London and had two kids there with an Israel-born husband. She wants to leave Britain for Florida because she doesn’t feel safe in the United Kingdom either.

“Europe is doomed. The bad guys won,” she said. “I’m not going to raise my children in fear just to make a point.”

Her father is a French-born lawyer who was raised Catholic by his mother, a Holocaust survivor, before reconnecting to his Jewish roots. He told me his feeling of personal safety in Brussels was irreversibly shattered when robbers invaded his home a few years ago, tied up him and his wife, and beat him before robbing the couple.

“We may have been singled out by the robbers because we’re Jewish, but at this point, does it matter? It completely changes how you feel just walking down the street,” he said. He and his wife are preparing to join their two children in Florida.

Catching up with other relatives between seder songs, I found myself chatting in Hebrew to Sylvia, an aunt whose three children are living in Israel with their spouses. It took a while before I realized that the last time we spoke Hebrew, she was limited to basic sentences like “I have a yellow pencil.”

Unbeknownst to me, she and her husband have been attending ulpan, Hebrew-language school, preparing to join their children in Israel. They bought a penthouse apartment in Tel Aviv years ago.

Even before the eruption 15 years ago of anti-Semitic Islamism in Europe, Sylvia and her husband said they would leave Belgium if ever the National Front, the far-right party in neighboring France, would come to power.

Another uncle, I learned during the seder, had taken up Israeli citizenship last year like two of his four children, who are currently serving in the Israeli army, but is still living in Belgium.

“It hardly matters if I do it now or in a few years when we actually move to Israel, so I figured, why not?” he explained.

But I recalled the very different attitude of his late mother, my great-aunt and matriarch of my family’s Belgian branch. A Polish-born, steel-willed woman who survived the Holocaust in hiding in Belgium, she was always proud of her adopted country, where she and her husband survived and later prospered.

Though she raised her three children to be very pro-Israel, she enrolled the first two in a public school and strongly encouraged all of them to stay in Belgium, where she mastered impeccable French and integrated seamlessly.

I asked her daughter, the one preparing to follow her two children to Florida, why she doesn’t share her late mother’s attachment to Belgium.

“My mother and her generation felt gratitude to Belgium after coming from Poland, where even before the Holocaust there were limits to a Jew’s social advancement,” said my aunt, a physician. “Belgium was her America. It welcomed her with open arms. We have had a different experience here.”

Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam extradited to France, under formal investigation


Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was placed under formal investigation on terrorism and murder charges in France on Wednesday after his extradition from Belgium, and he promised to talk to judges during his next hearing, his French lawyer said.

A Belgium-born Frenchman, Abdeslam is believed by investigators to be the sole survivor among a group of Islamist militants who killed 130 people in a spate of shootings and suicide bombings in Paris on Nov. 13.

“The investigation will determine to what degree he was involved in the acts … for which he has been put under investigation,” lawyer Frank Berton said after an initial hour-long hearing.

“He stayed silent today but said he would talk at a later stage,” Berton said, adding that the next hearing was set for May 20. Abdeslam did not speak on Wednesday because he was tired after a “quite rough” extradition, Berton said.

Abdeslam was placed under investigation on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, murder, kidnapping and holding weapons and explosives, the public prosecutor said in a statement. The kidnap charges relate to the hours-long attack on the Bataclan concert hall in which 90 people were killed.

Abdeslam, 26, was Europe's most wanted fugitive until his capture in Brussels on March 18 after a four-month manhunt. He was taken by helicopter to Paris under armed guard and then driven to the capital's main law courts.

French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Abdeslam would be held in solitary confinement in a high-security prison in the Paris region, with his cell under CCTV surveillance.

“PETTY CRIMINALS”

Four days after Abdeslam's capture, other Islamist militants blew themselves up at Brussels international airport and on a metro train, killing 32 people.

Investigators have said Abdeslam told them he arranged logistics for the multiple suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Paris and had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France sports stadium before backing out at the last minute.

He is suspected of having rented two cars used to transport the attackers to, and around, the French capital.

Abdeslam's elder brother Brahim, with whom he used to run a bar in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack on one of several Paris cafes targeted by a group of assailants armed with AK-47 rifles and suicide vests.

Salah Abdeslam's confession to investigators suggested he may have been the 10th man referred to in an Islamic State claim of responsibility for the multi-pronged attack on the stadium, bars and the Bataclan concert hall.

Police found an abandoned suicide vest in a rubbish bin in a Paris suburb following the attacks, stirring speculation that it might have belonged to Abdeslam, who escaped by car back to Belgium a few hours later.

Belgian police have arrested a number of his associates, including Mohamed Abrini, who was wanted in connection with both the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Sven Mary, Abdeslam's main defense lawyer in Belgium, distanced himself from his client, telling France's Liberation newspaper: “He's a little jerk from Molenbeek, from a world of petty criminals – more of a follower than a leader, with the brains of an empty ash-tray.”

European travel: Should I stay or should I go?


Three days before I was to depart for Europe on a river cruise traversing the waterways of the Netherlands and Belgium, I woke up to the news that terrorists had detonated explosives at Brussels’ airport and one of the city’s metro stations, killing more than 30 victims and wounding more than 300 others. 

Ten minutes later, I received a call from my (predictably) worried mom in Chicago, telling me to check to see if anything was canceled. A representative from the cruise line, the Calabasas-based AmaWaterways, answered my email within minutes, informing me the trip was still on, though the itinerary was changed due to the March 22 attacks: Our time in Belgium would be confined to a day and a half and we would be having more stops in Dutch towns instead.

My travel companion was on the phone with me 20 minutes later, arguing that we should move ahead as planned with the cruise, even with less time in Belgium. Otherwise, he said, “The terrorists would win.”

We were not the only ones with these concerns. Jon and Robyn Cohen, a Reform couple from West Hollywood, ultimately decided to set sail, too, but not without careful consideration. We discussed the subject en route to a half-day excursion in Ghent in northern Belgium, where we experienced an unsettling moment crossing through an underpass defaced with neo-Nazi graffiti.

Jon, a comedy writer and ad operations manager at Midroll, a Hollywood podcast company, said the package he and his wife selected was based on what was and what wasn’t on the itinerary.

“I did not want to go to France, especially given the attacks in Paris and how Jews were affected by them,” he said. “[As I followed] the news, I found few anti-Semitic [events] happening in Belgium and Holland.” 

That didn’t stop his father from issuing the familiar warning, “Don’t tell anybody you are Jewish.” And Robyn, a travel agent with Pleasant Holidays, was cautioned by her mother against wearing religious jewelry.

Informed by a career in tourism that included time at the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, Robyn took a pragmatic view of the situation.

“[Terrorism] can happen anywhere, including L.A.,” she said. “I left the final decisions to AmaWaterways regarding whether or not the cruise would be canceled or how they would modify the schedule.

“One thing that puts this kind of situation into perspective is that I work with Pleasant’s Caribbean products, and we’ve been doing battle with the Zika virus and the perceptions generated in the news. While I can’t travel there, as I am pregnant, for everybody else traveling there, I advise taking common sense precautions.”

Although Jon insisted Robyn make calls to the cruise line to get updates, she assured him that Amsterdam — the start and end point for the cruise — was far enough away from Brussels, and security precautions had been taken. Our conversation shifted again to our one full-day Belgian adventure in Antwerp, which went without a hitch. 

“However, the concerns would be different in many places if I were Orthodox,” Jon said. 

The increased security presence around Antwerp combined with the business-as-usual spirit made us truly appreciate the frites, architecture and bike tour of the Jewish quarter all the more. Religiously observant men with beards and tallitot went about their day, breezing past us on their bikes as the guide explained that the city has one of the highest concentrations of Orthodox Jews in the world outside Israel and Brooklyn.

Several travel agents specializing in Jewish travel advised customers to proceed with their plans these days, as long as they keep both their minds and eyes open to stay safe. 

Florida-based Sophia Kulich, who operates Jewish Travel Agency and Sophia’s Travel, suggested that her clients take U.S. government travel advisories seriously and register with its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (

One of Brussels bombers had worked in EU Parliament


One of the Islamic State suicide bombers who killed 32 people in Brussels on March 22 had worked as a cleaner for a short period in the European Parliament six years earlier, a spokesman for the EU assembly said on Thursday.

In 2009 and 2010, “one of the perpetrators of the Brussels terrorist attacks worked for a period of one month for a cleaning company which was contracted by the European Parliament at the time,” spokesman Jaume Duch Guillot said in a statement which did not name the individual.

An EU official said the person was Najim Laachraoui, a 25-year-old Belgian who prosecutors said blew himself up in the airport attack and is also suspected of making suicide vests for last November's Paris attacks in which 130 people died.

At the time of his temporary work in the parliament, he had no criminal record, the parliament's spokesman said.

Belgium to extradite Paris suspect Abdeslam to France


A Belgian court decided on Thursday that Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam could be extradited to France, Belgium's federal prosecutors said.

A lawyer for Abdeslam said earlier on Thursday that Abdeslam had dropped his initial objection to being extradited and had also renewed an offer to cooperate with the French authorities.

“Salah Abdeslam wishes to be transferred to the French authorities,” Cedric Moisse told reporters. “He wishes to cooperate with the French authorities.”

Prosecutors said France and Belgium would now discuss on how to proceed with the transfer.

After his arrest on March 18, four months after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, Abdeslam answered some investigators' questions but then exercised his right to silence following the suicide bombings in Brussels on March 22.

Investigators believe the attacks in Paris and Brussels were carried out by militants from the same Islamic State network.

Belgian Jew who lost leg in Brussels attack to move to Israel


A Belgian Jew whose leg was amputated in a suicide bombing at Brussels’ main airport said he would immigrate to Israel.

Walter Benjamin plans to make aliyah when he recovers from the injury he sustained in the March 22 attack he told Israel’s Channel 2 Sunday. The attack was part of a series of bombings in the Beglian capital that killed 35 people and wounded hundreds.

“I probably will pack my things, get on a plane and start looking for a small apartment in Israel,” he said, adding that he wants to be near his daughter, who lives, there until she enlists in the Israeli army. “That’s the most important thing in life for me.”

Benjamin said he was walking through the airport to check-in to a flight to Israel, where he planned to spend Purim with his daughter, when he heard a noise he thought was firecrackers.

Twenty seconds later, the second of two explosions at the airport blew off part of his leg. He was shielded from some of the shrapnel because he was holding a large suitcase, he said.

Benjamin recalled seeing a dead person next to him after the blast and realizing he had lost part of his right leg. A Belgian soldier helped stop the bleeding and evacuate him to receive medical treatment.

“I thought I was going to die,” Benjamin said.

Two students from an Antwerp yeshiva, or Jewish seminary, were also among the 300 people wounded in the bombings, the third of which struck a local subway station an hour later. The students were lightly to moderately hurt.

Can Belgium protect its Jews? A community has its doubts


The hundreds of rifle-toting police and soldiers who patrol Isaac Michaeli’s neighborhood have done little to improve his sense of safety.

“When the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, the soldiers might as well be cardboard cutouts,” he said.

A jeweler in his 40s, Michaeli lives with his family in Antwerp’s Jewish quarter, a small neighborhood of 12,000 that is one of the largest haredi communities in Europe.

The troops have been assigned to protect the neighborhood, with its 98 Jewish institutions, since May 2014, after four people were killed in a terrorist shooting at Brussels’ Jewish Museum of Belgium. Since then, their presence has been beefed up at periods of elevated risk — including after Tuesday’s string of terrorist attacks that left at least 31 dead and 300 wounded in Brussels.

Belgian Jewish leaders have praised the patrols and the government allocation of $4.5 million for the community’s protection. But amid reports of repeated failures in Belgian authorities’ counterterrorist efforts, Michaeli’s dismissive attitude is shared by other Belgian Jews. Many feel that their government is less competent in defending civilians, Jews and otherwise, than its neighbors, including France.

On Thursday, Menachem Hadad, a Brussels rabbi, told Israel’s Army Radio, “Belgian authorities have no understanding of security issues — zero.” He said soldiers posted outside a synagogue and the city’s Chabad House told him that for months, they used to guard the area with no bullets in their rifles. “It was just a show. It’s not normal,” he said.

Responding to Hadad’s claim, a Belgian Defense Ministry spokesperson wrote in an email to JTA that the soldiers posted in Brussels “are adequately armed and trained,” adding the ministry is nonetheless looking into the claims about the synagogue and Chabad House.

In Antwerp this week, hundreds of soldiers and police patrolled the Jewish quarter, where children wore costumes for Purim. One of a handful of European cities where the Jewish holiday is celebrated on the street, Antwerp’s Purim event this year paled in comparison to previous ones. Revelers were prohibited from playing music, wearing masks and using toy guns to avoid alarming soldiers and offending a grieving nation.

“We celebrate but we are broken,” said Mordechai Zev Schwamenfeld, 57, a member of Antwerp’s prominent Belz Hassidic community. Holding a basket of sweets he was delivering to friends – a Purim custom — he noted that two Belz yeshiva students were lightly wounded in the Brussels attacks. “It affects everyone, we’re not in a bubble,” he said.

Jewish children in Antwerp, Belgium, dressed as soldiers on Purim, March 24, 2016. Photo by Cnaan Liphshiz

Following the attacks, Belgium’s interior and justice ministers offered to resign over the alleged failure to track one of the attackers, an Islamic State militant, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, expelled by Turkey last year. He blew himself up at Brussels airport on Tuesday. An accomplice suicide bomber struck a subway station less than an hour later. Authorities are hunting for more accomplices, who they fear might strike again, possibly at Jewish targets.

Turkey said it warned Brussels specifically about El Bakraoui. According to Haaretz, Israel told Belgium just weeks ago that an attack was planned at the airport. European Union security agencies recommended airport security measures that were not implemented, according to reports.

The attackers also struck at obvious targets when officials should have been on high alert, said critics. Just four days before the attacks, authorities in Brussels arrested Salah Abdeslam, an Islamist alleged to have participated in a series of terrorist attacks in Paris in November.

The arrest, too, led to charges of incompetence. After four months on the run, Abdeslam was found on March 18, hiding a couple thousand feet from his parents’ home. He escaped police several times, including in November, thanks to regulations prohibiting home searches between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Having confirmed his whereabouts after midnight, police found an empty apartment in the morning.

Albert Guigui, the chief rabbi of Belgium, said that despite these apparent lapses, “Belgian authorities are now doing all they can following the trauma at the museum.” The attack on the unguarded building in 2014 prompted authorities to significantly beef up security “in an unprecedented way,” Guigui said. But asked whether Belgian authorities have the desire and the ability to stop attacks, he said: “I don’t know, I’m not a security expert. I’d like to believe so.”

Guigui’s hedged response differs markedly from that of French Jewish leaders. The heads of CRIF, France’s Jewish umbrella group, have often proclaimed their “utter confidence” in authorities’ ability to combat terrorism and protect the community against jihadism.

“I wouldn’t say I have full confidence,” said Joel Rubinfeld, founder of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism and a former president of the CCOJB umbrella of French-speaking Belgian Jewish communities. But after a long period of half-measures, he said, authorities took “robust steps to secure Jewish sites in 2014. It’s a positive step for which we are grateful.”

Amid increases in anti-Semitic incidents and a worsening sense of personal safety, immigration to Israel from Belgium has increased dramatically over the past five years.

People gather to show solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Nov. 14, 2015. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Last year, 287 Jews immigrated to Israel from Belgium, which has a Jewish population of about 40,000. It was the highest figure recorded in a decade. From 2010-2105, an average of 234 Belgian Jews made aliyah annually — a 56-percent increase over the annual average of 133 new arrivals from Belgium in 2005-2009, according to Israeli government data.

France too has a jihadist problem that is driving record numbers of Jewish immigrants to Israel, but “It is also a superpower with a strong army and a determined leadership, which Belgium seems not to have,” said Alexander Zanzer, an Antwerp Jew who runs Belgium’s Royal Society of Jewish Welfare. “I don’t have the same confidence that many French Jews have in their authorities following the attacks in their country.”

While in France, “there is leadership capable of making decisions, in Belgium the [bureaucracy] runs itself,” he said. And while this may be the sign of a functioning democracy in times of peace, he said, “in case of emergency, strong leadership is a necessity.”

Zanzer recalled how for 20 months in 2012-2013, a political standoff prevented the formation of a government in Belgium — a binational federal state of 11 million people divided between the richer Flemish, Dutch-speaking, population and the French-speaking south. Like Michaeli, Zanzer said that what most gives him a sense of security are Antwerp Jewry’s own volunteer neighborhood patrols — a service that is far more robust in Antwerp than in Brussels.

Michael Freilich, the editor in chief of the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel monthly, said the violence and the security presence in the Jewish quarter are taking a psychological toll, though he commended the work of special police patrols. After the Brussels attacks, one of Freilich’s three sons had a mild anxiety attack at his Jewish school, which is under constant military protection.

In their spacious home in the heart of the Jewish quarter, Freilich and his wife, Nechama Freilich, said they are unsure of what they should tell the 8-year-old.

“You want to reassure them that things will be alright and we tell them we’re safer here than in Brussels, but you can’t tell them it won’t happen here. It might,” Michael Freilich said.

Senior Brussels rabbi: Belgian authorities know nothing about security


Amid revelations of perceived failures in Belgium’s handling of terror threats, a prominent rabbi from Brussels said Belgian authorities “have no understanding of security issues.”

Rabbi Menachem Hadad of Brussels’  Shomre Hadas haredi Orthodox community made the remarks in an interview Thursday with Israel’s Army Radio about concerns that Belgium lacks the counterterrorism capabilities of other Western European countries grappling with home-grown jihadism of the kind on display on Tuesday, when a series of explosions in Brussels killed 32 people.

Hadad said that soldiers who were posted outside a synagogue and the city’s Chabad House following the slaying of four Jews in Brussels’ Jewish Museum of Belgium in 2014 told him that for months, they used to guard the area with no bullets in their rifles. “It was just a show. It’s not normal,” he said.

Hadad’s rebuke follows reports of omissions in how Belgian authorities handled security issues, including a failure to follow up on warnings by Turkey about one of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s attacks.

Belgium’s interior and justice ministers on Thursday offered to resign.

Belgium’s counterterrorism abilities are limited by a constitutional ban on ethnic profiling and other laws, including a ban on home searches between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Following the attacks, Israel’s intelligence minister, Israel Katz, said at the Knesset that, “If Belgians continue eating chocolate and enjoying life and looking like great democrats and liberals, and not noticing that some of the Muslims there are planning terrorism, they won’t be able to fight them.”  His remark was widely criticized as undiplomatic and insensitive in Belgian media.

Belgium names Brussels bomber brothers, key suspect on run


Belgium's chief prosecutor named two brothers on Wednesday as Islamic State suicide bombers who killed at least 31 people in the most deadly attacks in Brussels' history but said another key suspect was on the run.

Tuesday's attacks on a city that is home to the European Union and NATO sent shockwaves across Europe and around the world, with authorities racing to review security at airports and on public transport. It also rekindled debate about lagging European security cooperation and flaws in police surveillance.

The federal prosecutor told a news conference that Ibrahim El Bakraoui, 29, one of two men who blew themselves up at Brussels airport on Tuesday, had left a will on a computer dumped in a rubbish bin near the militants' hideout.

In it, he described himself as “always on the run, not knowing what to do anymore, being hunted everywhere, not being safe any longer and that if he hangs around, he risks ending up next to the person in a cell” – a reference to suspected Paris bomber Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last week.

His brother Khalid El Bakraoui, 27, detonated a bomb an hour later on a crowded rush-hour metro train near the European Commission headquarters, prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said.

Both men, born in Belgium, had criminal records for armed robbery but were not previously linked by investigators to Islamist militants.

At least 31 people were killed and about 271 wounded in the attacks, the prosecutor said. That toll could increase further because some of the bomb victims at Maelbeek metro station were blown to pieces and victims are hard to identify. Several survivors were still in critical condition.

The Bakraoui brothers were identified by their fingerprints and on security cameras, the prosecutor said. The second suicide bomber at the airport had yet to be identified and a third man, whom he did not name, had left the biggest bomb and run out of the terminal before the explosions.

Belgian media named that man as Najim Laachraoui, 25, a suspected Islamic State recruiter and bomb-maker whose DNA was found on two explosives belts used in last November's Paris attacks and at a Brussels safe house used by Abdeslam before his arrest last Friday.

Some media reported he had been captured in the Brussels borough of Anderlecht, but they later said the person detained was not Laachraoui.

Khalid El Bakraoui had rented under a false name the apartment in the city's Forest borough, where police hunting Abdeslam killed a gunman in a raid last week. He is also believed to have rented a safe house in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi used to mount the Paris attacks.

“BLACK DAYS”

The Syrian-based Islamist group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, warning of “black days” for those fighting it in Syria and Iraq. Belgian warplanes have joined the coalition in the Middle East, but Brussels has long been a centre of Islamist militancy.

A minute's silence was observed across Belgium at noon. Prime Minister Charles Michel cancelled a trip to China and reviewed security measures with his inner cabinet before attending a memorial event at European Commission headquarters with King Philippe, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

“We are determined, admittedly with a strong feeling of pain in our stomachs, but determined to act,” Michel told a joint news conference with Valls. “France and Belgium are united in pain more than ever.”

Valls played down cross-border sniping over security, saying: “We must turn the page on naivete, a form of carefreeness that our societies have known.

“It is Europe that has been attacked. The response to terrorism must be European.”

More than 1,000 people gathered around an improvised shrine with candles and street paintings outside the Brussels bourse.

Belgium's crisis coordination centre kept the level of security alert at the maximum as the man hunt continued. Some buses and trains were running but the metro and the airport were closed, along with key road tunnels in Brussels.

The blasts fuelled political debate across the globe about how to combat militants.

“We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world,” said U.S. President Barack Obama.

Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to succeed Obama in November's U.S. election, suggested suspects could be tortured to avert such attacks.

After a tip-off from a taxi driver who unknowingly drove the bombers to the airport, police searched an apartment in the Brussels borough of Schaerbeek late into the night, finding another bomb, an Islamic State flag and bomb-making chemicals.

An unused explosive device was later found at the airport.

CLOSING IN

Security experts believed the blasts were probably in preparation before Friday's arrest of locally based French national Abdeslam, 26, whom prosecutors accuse of a key role in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.

He was caught and has been speaking to investigators after a shootout at an apartment in the south of the city, after which another Islamic State flag and explosives were found.

It was unclear whether he had knowledge of plans for Tuesday's attack or whether accomplices precipitated their action, fearing police were closing in.

About 300 Belgians are estimated to have fought with Islamists in Syria, making the country of 11 million the leading European exporter of foreign fighters and a focus of concern in France and other neighbours over its security capabilities.

Reviving arguments over Belgian policies following the Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed in an operation apparently organised from Brussels, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin spoke of “naiveté” on the part of “certain leaders” in holding back from security crackdowns on Muslim communities.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders retorted that each country should look to its own social problems, saying France too had rough high-rise suburbs in which militants had become radicalised. Valls said France had no place teaching Belgium lessons and had its own security problems.

Brussels airport seemed likely to remain shut for several days over the busy Easter holiday weekend, since the departure hall was still being combed as a crime scene on Wednesday and repairs can only begin once investigators are finished.

Palestinian official on Brussels attacks: Europe ‘burning in their own fire’


A high-ranking Palestinian Authority official said on Facebook that the bombings in Belgium that left 32 dead and dozens injured, were a result of American and European policies and that Europe’s “airports and squares are burning in their own fire.”

According to the Times of Israel, Adnan Damiri, the spokesman of the PA security forces, wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday: “Those who prepare the poison will taste it themselves, and now Europe is having a taste of what it prepared with its own hands.”

“While we condemn acts of terror acts everywhere in the world, we the Arabs are the ones who have been burned worst in the fire of terror that was made and exported by Europe and America,” he continued.

In his post, Damiri called for a global effort to fight terrorism, but “first and foremost in Palestine, since the [Israeli] occupation is the ugliest form of terror.”

Damiri’s statement contrasted with the official reaction to the Brussels attacks from PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Tuesday, Abbas strongly condemned the Brussels bombing attacks, perpetrated by the Islamic State, and offered his sympathy to families of those killed and injured, the Wafa Palestinian news agency reported. Abbas also “affirmed that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people abhor terrorism and reject attacking civilians.”

Israeli government minister blames Brussels terror on ‘eating chocolate’


An Israeli government minister blamed Belgian officials for “eating chocolate” instead of paying attention to security against terror.

“If in Belgium they continue eating chocolate and enjoying life, and continue to appear as great democrats and liberals, and do not decide that some Muslims in their country are organizing terror, they won’t be able to fight them,” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said Wednesday in an interview with Israel Radio. Katz also serves as the country’s transportation minister.

His remarks came a day after twin bombings at Zaventem Airport and at a metro station in central Brussels killed at least 34 people and injured dozens.

“Europe and the U.S. aren’t prepared to define that the war is on Islamic terror,” he also said. “When your definition isn’t right and doesn’t exist, you can’t lead a global war.”

Several Israeli lawmakers criticized Belgium and Europe for lax security and for being hospitable to Muslims, but not integrating them properly into society.

Joint Arab List lawmaker Ahmed Tibi called the attacks “worthy of moral and political denunciation.”

Islamic State claims Brussels attacks that kill at least 30


Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital on Tuesday which killed at least 30 people, a news agency affiliated to the group said.

The coordinated assault triggered security alerts across Europe and drew global expressions of support, four days after Brussels police had captured the prime surviving suspect in Islamic State's attacks on Paris last November.

A witness said he heard shouts in Arabic and shots shortly before two blasts struck a packed airport departure lounge at Brussels airport. The federal prosecutor said one of the explosions was probably triggered by a suicide bomber.

Belgian media published a security camera picture of three young men pushing laden luggage trolleys through the airport and reported that police suspected them of being the attackers. They said two were suspected of having blown themselves up while police were hunting the third.

The AMAQ news agency carried the claim of responsibility. “Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital Brussels,” it said.

U.S. President Barack Obama led calls of support to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel after Brussels went into a state of virtual lock-down.

“We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” Obama told a news conference in Cuba. “We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.”

Michel spoke at a Brussels news conference of a “black moment” for his country. “What we had feared has come to pass.”

The blasts occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of a suspected participant in November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Belgian police and combat troops on the streets had been on alert for reprisal but the attacks took place in crowded areas where people and bags are not searched.

TRANSPORT SHUT DOWN

All public transport in Brussels was shut down, as it was in London during 2005 Islamist militant attacks there that killed 52. Authorities appealed to citizens not to use overloaded telephone networks, extra troops were sent into the city and the Belgian Crisis Centre, clearly wary of a further incident, appealed to the population: “Stay where you are”.

Later, people were told that mainline rail stations would open at 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) to let commuters head home.

British Sky News television's Alex Rossi, at the airport, said he heard two “very, very loud explosions”.

“I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well…I went toward where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked.”

Public broadcaster VRT said police had found a Kalashnikov assault rifle next to the body of an attacker at the airport. Such weapons have become a trademark of Islamic State-inspired attacks in Europe, notably in Belgium and France, including on Nov. 13 in Paris.

An unused explosive belt was also found in the area, the public broadcaster said. Police were continuing to scour the airport for any further bombs or attackers.

Alphonse Youla, 40, who works at the airport, told Reuters he heard a man shouting out in Arabic before the first explosion. “Then the glass ceiling of the airport collapsed.”

“I helped carry out five people dead, their legs destroyed,” he said, his hands covered in blood.

A witness said the blasts occurred at a check-in desk.

Video showed devastation in the hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor. Some passengers emerged from the terminal with blood spattered over their clothes. Smoke rose from the building through shattered windows and passengers fled down a slipway, some still hauling their bags.

Public broadcaster RTBF said police were searching houses in the Brussels area.

A Crisis Centre spokesman issued provisional figures of 20 killed in the metro and 10 at the airport. Public broadcaster VRT had said earlier 20 were killed in the train and 14 at the airport.

Many of the dead and wounded at the airport were badly injured in the legs, one airport worker told Reuters, suggesting at least one bomb in a bag on the floor.

Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands, all wary of spillover from conflict in Syria, were among states announcing extra security measures. Security was tightened at the Dutch border with Belgium.

The blast hit the train as it left Maelbeek station, close to European Union institutions, heading to the city center.

VRT carried a photograph of a metro carriage at a platform with doors and windows completely blown out, its structure deformed and interior mangled and charred.

A local journalist tweeted a photograph of a person lying covered in blood among smoke outside Maelbeek metro station, on the main Rue de la Loi avenue which connects central Brussels with the EU institutions. Ambulances were ferrying the wounded away and sirens rang out across the area.

“WE ARE AT WAR”

“We are at war and we have been subjected to acts of war in Europe for the last few months,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

Brussels airport said it had canceled all flights until at least 6 a.m. (0500 GMT) on Wednesday and the complex had been evacuated and trains to the airport had been stopped. Passengers were taken to coaches from the terminal that would remove them to a secure area.

All three main long-distance rail stations in Brussels were closed and train services on the cross-channel tunnel from London to Brussels were suspended.

Security services have been on a high state of alert across western Europe for fear of militant attacks backed by Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attack.

While most European airports are known for stringent screening procedures of passengers and their baggage, that typically takes place only once passengers have checked in and are heading to the departure gates.

Although there may be discreet surveillance, there is nothing to prevent members of the public walking in to the departure hall at Zaventem airport with heavy baggage.

Following an attempted ramraid attack at Glasgow Airport in 2007, several airports stepped up security at entrances by altering the pick-up and drop-off zones to prevent private cars getting too close to terminal buildings.

European stocks fell after the explosions, particularly travel sector stocks including airlines and hotels, pulling the broader indices down from multi-week highs. Safe-haven assets, gold and government bonds rose in price.

The attacks appeared to be linked to the arrest of French citizen Salah Abdeslam – the prime surviving suspect for the Paris attacks on a stadium, cafes and a concert hall – who was captured by Belgian police after a shootout on Friday.

Belgium's Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, said on Monday the country was on high alert for a revenge attack.

It was not clear what failings if any allowed the plan for Tuesday's operation to go ahead and whether the double attack was planned in advance or put together at short notice.

“We know that stopping one cell can … push others into action. We are aware of it in this case,” Jambon said.

Third Brussels airport bomb destroyed in controlled explosion


Security services found and destroyed a third bomb after two explosions at Brussels airport on Tuesday killed at least 10 people and left around 100 wounded, the provincial governor of Brabant Flanders said on Wednesday.

A separate blast at a metro station in central Brussels killed a further 20 people and injured roughly 130 people, according to a provisional toll from the national crisis response center.

Netanyahu links Brussels attacks with terrorism in Israel


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel linked the attacks on an airport and metro station in Brussels to terror attacks in his country.

“The chain of attacks from Paris to San Bernardino, from Istanbul to the Ivory Coast and now to Brussels, and the daily attacks on Israel, this is one continuous assault on all of us,”  Netanyahu said Tuesday morning in an address via satellite to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. “In all these cases, the terrorists have no resolvable grievances.

“What they seek is our utter destruction,” he said. “We won’t let that happen.”

At least 34 people were killed and dozens injured on Tuesday morning in the twin bombings at Zaventem Airport and at a metro station in central Brussels. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it was in response to Belgium’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the group.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas strongly condemned the bombing attacks, and offered his sympathy to families of those killed and injured, the Wafa Palestinian news agency reported. Abbas also “affirmed that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people abhor terrorism and reject attacking civilians.”

The attack comes two days after a suicide bomber detonated himself near a group of Israeli tourists at a restaurant in Istanbul. Turkish reports said the bomber targeted the Israelis. Three of the four fatalities were Israelis.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, sent a condolence letter on Tuesday to King Philippe of Belgium.

“Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, whether it takes place in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul or Jerusalem,” Rivlin wrote. “These horrific events once again prove that we must all stand united in the fight against those who seek to use violence to stifle individual liberty and freedom of thought and belief, and continue to destroy the lives of so many. I want to emphasize that this struggle that we all share is against this violent terrorism that continues to kill and maim so many, it is not a fight against Islam.”

Rivlin expressed his condolences to the people of Belgium.

“Sadly, we, in Israel, are no strangers to the horror and grief that follows such murderous attacks and can understand the pain you all feel now,” he said.

Israel’s minister of science, technology and space, Ofir Akunis, said in a Facebook post that European officials have been wasting their time worrying about labeling products produced in Israeli settlements instead of worrying about the growth of Islamic extremism in Europe.

“Many in Europe have preferred to occupy themselves with the folly of condemning Israel, labeling products, and boycotts,” he wrote. “In this time, underneath the nose of the Continent’s citizens, thousands of extremist Islamic terror cells have grown. To our sorrow, the reality has struck the lives of dozens of innocent people, powerfully and fatally.”

Trump urges waterboarding and more after Brussels attacks


Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said on Tuesday that the United States should use waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques when questioning terror suspects, and renewed his call for tougher U.S. border security after the attacks in Brussels.

The billionaire businessman, in an interview on NBC's “Today” program, said authorities “should be able to do whatever they have to do” to gain information in an effort to thwart future attacks.

“Waterboarding would be fine. If they can expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding,” Trump said, adding he believed torture could spark useful leads for officials. “You have to get the information from these people.”

Waterboarding, the practice of pouring water over someone's face to simulate drowning as an interrogation tactic, was banned by President Barack Obama days after he took office in 2009. Critics call it torture.

“I am in the camp where you have to get the information, and you have to get it rapidly,” Trump said, adding “liberal” laws in Europe had made it hard to counter potential attacks.

Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, also reiterated the need for tougher measures to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, particularly Syrian refugees, across the border.

“As president … I would be very, very tough on the borders, and I would be not allowing certain people to come into this country without absolute perfect documentation,” said Trump, campaigning to become the Republican nominee for the Nov. 8 election that will decide on Obama's successor.

The Brussels attacks brought national security back to the top of the 2016 presidential election agenda, possibly sharpening division between Trump's isolationist approach to foreign policy and his Republican rivals' more traditional interventionist outlook.

On Monday, Trump expressed skepticism about the U.S. role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and said the United States should significantly cut spending on the defense alliance.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for Tuesday's suicide bomb attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital which killed at least 30 people.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton acknowledged Americans have a right to be frightened after a spate of recent attacks but said military leaders have found techniques like waterboarding are not effective.

“We've got to work this through consistent with our values,” she said on NBC, adding officials “do not need to resort to torture, but they are going to need more help.”

SYRIAN REFUGEES

Trump's top Republican rival, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, renewed his call for an immediate halt to Obama's plan to admit thousands of Syrian refugees to the United States and suggested heightened police scrutiny of neighborhoods with large Muslim populations.

“We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” he said in a statement.

Cruz also criticized Trump's call for cutting the U.S. spending on NATO, which he said should join the United States in “utterly destroying ISIS,” an acronym for Islamic State.

Republican rival John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, struck a more diplomatic tone after the attacks, pledging to “redouble our efforts with our allies” and saying the United States “must strengthen our alliances” in the face of acts of terror.

Earlier attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, have shocked Americans and pushed security issues to the forefront of the White House campaign debate.

When 130 people were killed in Paris in November, the threat of terrorism jumped from fifth to first on a Reuters/Ipsos poll list of the country's most important problems and remained there until the economy moved back to the top of the list in mid-January.

Walid Phares, named by Trump this week as one of his foreign policy experts, told Reuters the Brussels attacks would force Europe and the United States to “reassess” counter-terrorism strategies in “identifying the radicalized elements and also the type of protection soft targets need.”

Trump looks to take another step toward winning the Republican presidential nomination in contests in Arizona and Utah on Tuesday, aiming to deal another setback to the party establishment's flagging stop-Trump movement.

He has a big lead in convention delegates who will pick the Republican nominee, defying weeks of attacks from members of the party establishment worried he will lead the Republicans to defeat in November.

In Arizona, one of the U.S. states that borders Mexico, Trump's hardline immigration message is popular and he leads in polls, while in Utah Trump lags in polls behind Cruz.

In addition to the temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, Trump has called for the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border to halt illegal immigration.

Jewish group on Brussels attacks: ‘Shots at the heart of Europe’


Jewish groups expressed shock and anger following a series of attacks that left at least 34 dead in the Belgian capital.

Kenneth Bandler, director of media relations for the American Jewish Committee, linked the attacks to the slaying of four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in May 2014.

“What began with the jihadist fatal attack on the Jewish Museum nearly two years ago has now reached the airport and metro,” he wrote in an email about the Tuesday morning attacks in Brussels.

Two explosions at Zaventem Airport, including one by a suicide bomber, killed at least 14 people, and was followed by an explosion at the Maelbeek metro station, where another at least 20 died, the Het Laatste Nieuws daily reported on its online edition.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a French national in his 30s who is said to have fought with jihadists in Syria, is currently on trial in Brussels for the May 2014 museum shooting.

“This is yet another shocking, appalling and deadly attack on innocent Europeans by radical terrorists,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said in a statement. Kantor called the attacks “shots at the heart of Europe” that he said should galvanize counterterrorist actions.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, in response to Belgium’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said his organization is “united in prayers at this hour with the families of the victims and the injured.”

Goldschmidt called the attacks, whose perpetrators have not yet been publicly identified, the “latest act of war of Islamic fascism against the capital of Europe,” adding: “As in the biblical story of Esther, which will be read in all the synagogues later this week, evil can and will be destroyed only by recognizing it and fighting it.”

Sources from a Belgian intelligence agency said the attacks may have been carried out as revenge for the arrest Friday in Belgium of Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French Islamist whom authorities suspect had a key role in a series of deadly attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in November. An unnamed intelligence source told the Het Laatste Nieuws daily that the attacks must have been planned a long time ago but may have been carried out earlier than planned to retaliate for the arrest.

Ex-leader of Belgian Jews: Belgium’s airports need Israel-style security


A prominent Belgian activist against anti-Semitism called on his government to follow Israel’s lead in airport security after a series of attacks killed 34 people in Brussels.

Joel Rubinfeld, founder of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism and a former president of the CCJOB umbrella group representing French-speaking Belgian Jews, urged authorities to emulate Israel in an interview with JTA on Tuesday, after bombs went off at Zaventem Airport and a metro station.

Calling the free access to the terminal at Zaventem “a security problem,” Rubinfeld said: “We need to rethink on a European level and draw lessons, for example, from counterterrorist measures in Israel, where one is interviewed by police at a checkpoint one kilometer away from the airport — at a safe distance.”

Separately, Pini Schiff, a former security director at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, which is considered among the most secure in the world, said the attacks at the Brussels airport mark “a colossal failure” of Belgian security and that “the chances are very low” such a bombing could have happened in Israel, The Associated Press reported.

The attacks, for which the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility, came four days after Belgian police arrested Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French Islamist whom authorities suspect had a key role in the series of deadly attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in November, in Brussels.

In recent years, several perpetrators of terrorist attacks against non-Jewish targets went on to target Jews.

Asked whether he has full confidence in the authorities’ ability to stop future attacks, Rubinfeld said security around Jewish institutions was “seriously beefed up” following the slaying of four people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum of Belgium, which had been unguarded.

“I wouldn’t say I have full confidence,” he said, “but the authorities have taken robust steps to secure Jewish sites.”

Germany arrests three suspects driving Belgian car


German police on Tuesday arrested three people in a car with a Belgian license plate near the border with Austria and launched an investigation into whether they had planned to carry out an attack, a police spokesman said.

The three suspects from Kosovo were arrested before the attacks that killed at least 30 people at a metro station and the international airport in Brussels, the spokesman said.

Police made the arrests on a motorway in the southern state of Bavaria after receiving an intelligence tip-off.

“Investigations have been launched into the suspected planning of a serious criminal act against the state because there was notification of that,” the spokesman said.

He said there was no indication so far that the three suspects had any links to the attacks in the Belgian capital, adding that this could not be ruled out.

Germany stepped up security measures at airports, train stations and the borders with Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg after the explosions in Brussels.

How we must respond to Brussels


I was at European Union headquarters in Brussels last month, before moving on to Paris to discuss anti-Semitic hate crimes, terrorism and thwarting ISIS’ brilliant leveraging of social media.

At the end of our EU meetings, my Simon Wiesenthal Center colleague Dr. Shimon Samuels and I rushed to Brussels’ Central Train Station. “Better get there early,” Shimon advised, “after the Paris attacks and the Brussels connection to the terrorists, there are strict new security measures in place.” When we arrived I found no special security in place, just a few bored soldiers smoking cigarettes and one rail worker who asked for an ID to match up to my e-ticket.

The next day, a senior French Interior Ministry official responded with a diplomatic shrug when I asked “what good were the new strict security measures taken on all outbound rail traffic from Paris when there seemed to be nothing serious in place in Brussels, a mere hour away by train?”

Experts are investigating whether today’s highly sophisticated and coordinated attacks in Brussels are linked to the capture this week of Salah Abdeslam, sole survivor of the 10 men behind the French terror mass murders, or if they were set in motion long ago by another ISIS cell. There are now an estimated 5,000 European-born Islamist terrorists, trained in Syria or Iraq or Libya, who have melted back into cities across Europe.

The tactics displayed are deeply troubling to say the least. ISIS has apparently been able to use its control of the vast territories and vast sums of money it has amassed to upgrade the education of bombers and suicide vest makers and to deploy these weapons across Europe.

What must European leaders do?

First, get rid of the open-borders Shengen Agreement, which allows unencumbered travel between 26 European countries. It has been in place for 20 years, but it clearly allows terrorists to move around undetected. Second, all Western countries must vet all migrants from the Middle East. The decency of European countries has been abused by terrorists, some of whom have entered their nations comingled with legitimate refugees.

France, Germany, Belgium and other democracies also must take control of all urban neighborhoods. No-go zones in Arab and Muslim areas are incubators of Islamist extremism and, as in the case of Brussels, safe haven for terrorists.

Failure on the part of European democracies to fully implement these measures will not only ensure escalating terrorist outrages but will push even more European voters to join the ranks of xenophobic far-right parties.

It is clear that Europe is in for a long and, God forbid, bloody struggle.

The unending terrorist carnage should also force the hi-tech and social media giants, from Apple to Google and YouTube, to develop and deploy technological trip wires to thwart ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Al Shabab’s unfettered access to Internet technologies. If they don’t, many officials across Europe have told me they will use their legal and economic clout to force them to do so.

But even if Europeans undertake all of these steps, they cannot win the day without a global commitment to crush ISIS, kill their leaders, and take back all the territory they currently control.

That war can only be led by one country—the United States of America.

The easy thing to do is to focus our attention on the five remaining presidential candidates and to hear from them what steps they would take to eradicate the enemy, starting in January 2017.

But world events won’t wait for a new leader. Right now, the evildoers are winning.

Here is what President Barack Obama said today while in Havana:

“…and we stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people.

“This is yet another reminder that the world must unite,” Obama said. “We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”

Sorry President Obama, such words are meaningless unless we commit to stop “degrading” ISIS over time, and undertake to destroy them. There is a coalition of the willing waiting to be activated. It will mean putting American, European, Turkish and Arab boots on the ground. All that is needed is leadership from our president.

In sports, we are taught that the best defense is an offense. The same should apply to defeating terrorism.  So after watching the ballgame in Havana, I urge the president to travel to Brussels, lay a wreath in memory of the latest victims, then step up to the EU podium and declare war against ISIS incorporated.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

When Brussels meant freedom from fear for an Israeli


Growing up, trips to stay with my Jewish family in Brussels were a taste of freedom.

In my native Israel, waves of Palestinian terrorist attacks kept me under constant maternal surveillance. Fear of regular bus bombings limited my excursions to biking distance.

On the tranquil streets of the Belgian capital, by contrast, I could wander at will amid the mix of medieval architecture and glass-and-steel skyscrapers. Even riding the tram with my cousin Eli was exhilarating. The rails seemed to stretch out endlessly, and there was the added thrill of potentially getting caught without tickets, which we never bothered to buy.

On Tuesday, a series of explosions killed 34 people — 14 of them at Zaventem airport and another 20 at one of the metro stations that Eli and I used to exploit.

“The anxiety is terrible,” Eli’s father, my uncle, told me, quickly recalling doing a family headcount after learning of the attacks. “But equally horrible is that these attacks reduce you to feeling happy that strangers whom you’ve never met died in them, and not your own friends and family.”

On a visit to Brussels earlier this month, I had sensed a change. The city no longer felt so free.

At a book signing by a Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, I was shocked to see that he was accompanied by a bodyguard. Outside the building, a dozen police officers stood guard.

Wasn’t this an official overreaction to the May 2015 slaying of four people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum? I asked Joel Rubinfeld, head of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.

 “We are all targets now — philosophers, anti-racism activists, journalists, police officers, the people in this restaurant,” Rubinfeld said.

In a southern district of Brussels the afternoon of the attacks, Rabbi Shalom Benizri was still waiting for word from his loved ones when I called his home. A communications overload had disabled cell service by several providers, leaving many thousands unable to make or receive those crucial calls.

Benizri, who used to head a large Sephardic community in downtown Brussels before its members moved because of the rampant criminality in the heavily Muslim area, recalled the museum shooting.

 “We were the targets then, but now everyone is a target,” Benizri said, echoing Rubinfeld.

During the attack, Benizri was at the airport about to board a flight to Israel, where several of his children live. As chaos broke out and hundreds fled the smoking building, he returned to his car and drove home.

In lockdown at home — a precaution that probably applies especially to Orthodox rabbis like himself — Benizri told me he is among the local Jews who see no future for their families in Belgium.

“There is enormous concern not only among people like me, but also non-observant Jews,” he said. “As for me, my suitcases are packed to go.”

Wishing him a happy Purim, I hung up with a sinking feeling about what was happening to the city I love — which is situated only 130 miles from Amsterdam, where I now live with my wife and 4-month-old son.

Trying to put my finger on when things got out of control in Belgium and Western Europe in general, I remembered a conversation that I had with Eli 20 years ago in a Brussels metro station.

Attuned to an inchoate rise in anti-Semitic violence to which I was oblivious as a foreigner, Eli had asked me to address him as “Ile,” an anagram of his name, when we were on the street. Maybe I should have known then.

Europe should hire Israel, not condemn it


Do you know what European honchos were doing in Geneva recently even as the Islamic State was planning another terror attack on their continent? They were preparing yet another condemnation of Israel, this time with an ironic twist.

They were targeting Israel for its actions in the Golan Heights, the same region where the Jewish state has set up field hospitals to care for Syrian rebels maimed by the venomous weapons of the Islamic State.

You read that right. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council circulated a draft resolution on Israel’s “systematic and continuous violation” of the rights of “Syrian citizens in the occupied Golan Heights,” in addition to four other draft resolutions censuring Israel.

Hypocrisy on steroids.

When we talk about the proper response to terror attacks like the one we just witnessed in Brussels, we have to start with eradicating the malignant European hypocrisy towards the Jewish state. 

How many thousands of hours have been squandered at the European Union in Brussels discussing the labelling of Israeli products made in Judea and Samaria instead of developing an anti-terror strategy?

How much time has been spent at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands discussing the prosecution of Israeli leaders while ignoring murderous dictators and genocidal war criminals?

How many visits to the Middle East have been initiated by European diplomats to pressure Israel to make peace with terrorists rather than confront a region in violent meltdown?

In other words, when will the powers that be in Europe realize that the Islamic terrorism threatening their continent has nothing to do with Israeli tomatoes being grown in Judea and Samaria or Jewish apartments being built in Jerusalem?

In the wake of the latest atrocity in Brussels that killed 34 people and wounded more than 200, it looks like the reality of evil may have interrupted, at least for now, Europe’s obsession with Israel.  

“We are at war,” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. 

“These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence,” said European Union Council President Donald Tusk.

“We realize we face a tragic moment. We have to be calm and show solidarity,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. 

Cutting to the chase, HBO’s “Real Time” host Bill Maher wondered if “Europe will have a little more sympathy for what Israel goes through” instead of being “real a**holes” to them.

Well, that would be nice– I’m also hoping Europe will have more sympathy for Israel, a country that has endured the scourge of terrorism since its very inception.

But what I’m really hoping for is that Europe will come to its senses and realize that the Jewish state is its #1 ally against the Islamic State. I’m hoping Europe will not only stop condemning Israel but will actually hire Israel to help protect and defend the continent against Islamic terrorism.

It’s not just because of the obvious—that no country has more experience fighting this kind of war, and that Israel has developed the most advanced techniques to fight terror at all levels and prevent attacks. 

No, the real reason Europe should hire Israel is because Israel has been winning its long war against terror while maintaining a civil society that protects human rights and the pursuit of happiness.

Faced with a primitive and medieval violence that respects no boundaries, Israel has managed to fight back while maintaining boundaries of law and decency and nurturing a vibrant and creative culture that is the envy of the world. Most countries would have turned into an emergency police state as a mere matter of survival.

In fact, as Eli Lake reports on Bloomberg.com, this is already happening in France: “Since the attacks in Paris last November, the socialist government of President Francois Hollande has placed his country under a state of emergency. France's national guard has been deployed to protect sensitive religious sites and other ‘soft targets.’ The country of Voltaire, Diderot and Camus is in 2016 the police state that critics warn Cruz or Trump would bring about if given the chance.”

Of course, there’s one major caveat to Europe hiring Israel. The continent’s obsession with condemning Israel has resulted in a culture of hatred towards the Jewish state. This means that European leaders would have to be very discreet about any partnership with Israel.

We can only hope that, with time, Europeans everywhere will realize that a good relationship with Israel is in their best interest and they'll be open about an anti-terror alliance with the Jewish state.

After all, if there’s one thing we know civilized Europeans care about, it’s the pursuit of happiness.

Explosions hit Brussels airport, metro – several killed


This is a developing story.

Explosions tore through the departure hall of Brussels airport on Tuesday morning killing up to 10 people and injuring 30 others and a second blast struck a metro station in the capital shortly afterwards, the Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said.

The Belga agency said shots were fired and there were shouts in Arabic shortly before the blasts at the airport. Pictures on social media showed smoke rising from the terminal building through shattered windows and passengers running away down a slipway, some still hauling their bags.

The blasts at the airport and metro station occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of a suspected participant in November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Belgian police had been on alert for any reprisal action.

British Sky News television's Alex Rossi, at the airport, said he heard two “very, very loud explosions”.

“I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well…I went towards where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked.”

“The thinking here is that it is some kind of terrorist attack – that hasn't been verified by any of the authorities here at the airport.”

Video showed devastation inside the departure hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor.

RTBF said the metro station hit by the explosion was close to European Union institutions. Authorities closed all metro stations in Brussels, but there were no details immediately available of any casualties in this second incident of the day.

A local journalist tweeted a photograph of a person lying covered in blood among smoke outside Maelbeek metro station, on the main Rue de la Loi avenue which connects central Brussels with the EU institutions.

FLIGHTS CANCELLED, PASSENGERS EVACUATED

The agency cited hospital sources as saying up to ten people wre killed at the airport.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on his twitter feed: “We are following the situation minute by minute. Our priority concern is for the victims and those present in the airport.”

Brussels airport said it had cancelled all flights and the complex had been evacuated and trains to the airport had been stopped. Passengers were taken to coaches from the terminal that would remove them to a secure area.

Police did not give any confirmation of the cause of the blast. But there has been a high state of alert across western Europe for fear of militant attacks backed by Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attack.

European stocks fell after the explosions, particularly travel sector stocks including airlines and hotels, pulling the broader indices down from multi-week highs. Safe-haven assets, gold and government bonds rose in price.

French citizen Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect for November's Paris attacks on a stadium, cafes and a concert hall, was captured by Belgian police after a shootout on Friday.

Belgium's Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, said on Monday the country was on high alert for a revenge attack.

“We know that stopping one cell can … push others into action. We are aware of it in this case,” he told public radio.

French investigator Francois Molins told a news conference in Paris on Saturday that Abdeslam, a French citizen born and raised in Brussels, admitted to investigators he had wanted to blow himself up along with others at the Stade de France on the night of the attack claimed by Islamic State; but he later backed out.

Fugitive from Paris attacks arrested in Brussels shootout


The most-wanted fugitive from November's Paris attacks was arrested after a shootout with police in Brussels on Friday, the Belgian federal prosecutor's office said.

Local media reported that Salah Abdeslam, the 26-year-old French suspect, was wounded in the operation as EU leaders met on the other side of the city to discuss Europe's migration crisis.

Television footage showed armed security forces dragging a man with a sack on his head out of a building and into a car.

“We got him,” Belgium's Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Theo Francken, said on Twitter.

Several bursts of gunfire rang out earlier in the capital's Molenbeek area – the scene of past investigations into the Paris attacks – and police officers were seen surrounding an apartment block there from around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT).

French President Francois Hollande and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel left the EU summit to discuss the operation, officials said.

Two explosions were heard after the arrest, though it was unclear whether they were part of a new operation or the clear-up.

Media reported two people had been arrested, a third suspect may have been involved and Abdeslam had been shot in the leg, though there were conflicting accounts.

FINGERPRINTS

Belgian police had found fingerprints belonging to Abdeslam at the scene of an apartment raided on Tuesday, prosecutors said earlier.

The Belgian federal prosecutor's office also said an Algerian killed during that earlier operation was probably one of the people French and Belgian investigators were seeking in relation to the Islamic State attacks in Paris on Nov. 13.

Public broadcaster RTBF said it had information that Abdeslam, whose elder brother blew himself up in Paris, was “more than likely” one of two men who police have said evaded capture at the scene before a sniper shot dead 35-year-old Belkaid as he aimed a Kalashnikov.

A man named Samir Bouzid has been sought since December when police issued CCTV pictures of him wiring cash from Brussels two days after the Paris attacks to a woman who was then killed in a shootout with police in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.

She was a cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian who had fought in Syria and is suspected of being a prime organizer of the attacks in which 130 people were killed. Both died in the apartment in St. Denis on Nov. 18.

France's BFM television said the fingerprints were found on a glass in the apartment, where four police officers, including a Frenchwoman, were wounded when a hail of automatic gunfire hit them through the front door as they arrived for what officials said they had expected to be a relatively routine search.

Abdeslam's elder brother was among the suicide bombers who killed themselves in Paris. The younger Abdeslam was driven back to Brussels from Paris hours later.

Belgian authorities are holding 10 people suspected of involvement with him, but there had been no report of the fugitive himself being sighted. There has long been speculation in Belgium that he could have fled to Syria.

Investigators believe much of the planning and preparation for the November bombing and shooting rampage in Paris was conducted in Brussels by young French and Belgian nationals, some of whom fought in Syria for Islamic State.

The attack strained relations between Brussels and Paris, with French officials suggesting Belgium was lax in monitoring the activities of hundreds of militants returned from Syria.

Brussels, headquarters of the European Union as well as Western military alliance NATO, was entirely locked down for days after the Paris attacks for fear of a major incident there. Brussels has maintained a high state of security alert since then, with military patrols a regular sight.

Brussels New Year fireworks cancelled over attack fears


Authorities in the Belgian capital Brussels on Wednesday called off the city's traditional New Year's Eve fireworks display, citing fears of a militant attack.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors said two people suspected of plotting an attack in Brussels on New Year's Eve had been arrested during house searches in different parts of the country.

“Together with the interior minister, we've decided to not have the celebrations on Thursday evening,” Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur told the state broadcaster RTBF.

The two people arrested, who were likely to appear in court on Thursday, belong to the Kamikaze Riders, a motorbike club whose members are mostly of North African origin and whose bike stunts can be seen in various online videos.

Belgium has been at the heart of investigations into attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 in which 130 people were killed.

Two of the Paris suicide bombers, Brahim Abdeslam and Bilal Hadfi, had been living in Belgium. On Wednesday, a source close to the French investigation confirmed a report that said at least one man was suspected of having coordinated the attacks by mobile phone from Belgium as they were being carried out.

Brussels last cancelled its New Year fireworks in 2007, when it was also on high alert after a plan was foiled to free Tunisian Nizar Trabelsi, convicted of plotting to blow up a military base.

Why I hired a Belgian butcher to circumcise my son


They warn you that parenting means doing a bunch of stuff you never imagined yourself doing.

I had always assumed this applied to saying to children things like, “You watch your tone of voice, young lady” or, “Let’s not eat things we find in our underwear.”

But in my case, the moment came before my son was even born, when I found myself begging a Belgian kosher slaughterer, or shochet, to come to the Netherlands and circumcise him.

In my native Israel or the United States, securing the services of a ritual circumciser, or mohel, is as easy as picking up the phone. But in the Netherlands, where Jews have lived since the 12th century, it can be an ordeal involving international travel, community politics, Holocaust-era trauma and unexpected objections by close family members.

Negotiating these hurdles helped me to fully understand the fears, long expressed by community leaders, that the dearth of religious services pose a long-term threat to communal survival. Indeed, the Conference of European Rabbis last month set up a think tank charged with bettering circumcision and kosher food services to small communities, calling the lack thereof “a major concern.”

On paper, I shouldn’t have had any problems. Circumcision, which was last outlawed here by the Nazis, is perfectly legal in the Netherlands, which has about 40,000 Jews. The country’s Orthodox Jewish communities keep a list of about five mohels, plus a number of Reform physicians who perform circumcisions for their congregants.

But in a country where 50 percent of Jews don’t circumcise their sons, the Reform physicians have much less practical experience with the body part in question. Unimpressed by fancy titles, my wife and I preferred a humble mohel with thousands of foreskins under his belt to a celebrated professor with many diplomas but far fewer penile notches on his.

That proved difficult to arrange. The Dutch one who came recommended had about 1,500 on his meter but had to be flown in at our expense from Israel, where he moved some years ago. So we widened the search to Belgium, where about half the country’s 40,000 Jews are Orthodox.

There we finally found our guy.

“He really knows his meat,” said one of the many people who recommended the shochet to us.

Widely considered one of the best mohels in the region, the shochet accepted in principle. But he needed special permission from the Dutch Jewish community for poaching on their turf — the result of recent “administrative problems” that arose just a few months ago.

“I need it because I don’t want to get in trouble with your people,” the shochet said.

Which is when I started begging.

Ultimately, the shochet agreed to circumcise our son if we cut through the red tape for him. I got on the phone, hoping train traffic would not be interrupted because of the current terrorist threat in Belgium.

The shochet, a hulking and patient rabbi from Antwerp, arrived on our doorstep on Sunday, a few days after the baby’s eighth day, when the ritual is traditionally performed. The bris went off without a hitch, but for a brief moment when the shochet held up the boy briskly to test his strength.

“He’s handling him like a chicken!” an aunt from Brussels exclaimed.

The search left me with many unanswered questions. How could Judaism’s initiation rite be such an ordeal in a country with a Jewish community that dates back more than 800 years? Are these difficulties the cause or the effect of the fact that only half of Dutch Jews circumcise their children, according to a 2009 survey?

Part of the complication, according to Bart Wallet, a historian from the University of Amsterdam who specializes in Dutch Jewry, is the system in which Jews pay annual membership fees (it can reach more than $1,000 per year) in exchange for religious services. Only 20 percent of Dutch Jews are paying members of a Dutch Jewish community, according to Wallet. With Dutch congregations straining to finance Jewish communal life here, there’s little reason to make it easy for people like me, who eschew membership and consume religious services a la carte.

But as with many things in Dutch Jewish life, ultimately it all goes back to the Holocaust. Prior to the war, the Netherlands had 140,000 Jews spread across the country and several traveling mohels servicing far-flung congregations, according to Wallet. After the war, in which 75 percent of Dutch Jews were murdered, the practice fell off.

“Jewish life, including circumcision, never fully restored here,” Wallet said. “Many Dutch Jews skipped the circumcision as a lesson from the past, when their relatives could be identified by taking off their underwear.”

For my Amsterdam-born wife, the Holocaust consideration is a distant second to her main issue with circumcision, namely that it involves causing pain for symbolic reasons. She regards it as a “necessary evil” — necessary only because of my insistence on it.

Some of our relatives here are less resigned. One called me to appeal our decision, citing the main argument used by the European liberals — that it supposedly violates children’s rights. This was the grounds on which a German court enacted a temporary ban on circumcision in 2012, which inspired similar moves in nearby countries. Since circumcision has no real medical benefits, my relative argued, it was not my decision to make.

At our son’s bris, Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs made a short speech in which he raised this argument in acknowledging what he called the “attack on circumcision” in Europe.

“You don’t ask the baby whether they want to be born, either, but we have them to continue our legacy,” Jacobs countered.

As for me, I told the relative (who himself was circumcised) that circumcision “comes down to tribalism.”

“I respect that,” he replied, “but can’t you just give him a T-shirt or something instead?”

Synagogues in Brussels shuttered amid highest state of alert


Synagogues in Brussels were advised to remain shuttered over the weekend after Belgian authorities ordered the country’s capital to remain on the highest state of alert.

The alert level 4 remained in effect into Monday due to the fear of a Paris-style attack. Several of the terrorists in the Paris attacks of Nov. 13, which killed at least 129, had links to Belgium. The alert level was raised after warnings of an “immediate very serious threat,” according to reports.

Some 16 people were detained in 22 raids late Sunday, and five more were arrested in seven home searches on Monday. Police are searching for Belgian national Salah Abdeslam, whose brother reportedly blew himself up in one of the Paris attacks and who is believed to have returned to Brussels from Paris in the hours after the Nov. 13 attacks.

The Jewish Central Consistory of Belgium, the country’s main Jewish umbrella, advised synagogues to close down even for Shabbat, the European Jewish Press reported. The Great Synagogue of Brussels, which also houses the Central Consistory, remained closed, according to the EJP.

Some synagogues reportedly remained open for Shabbat services with additional security in place.

Jewish institutions, including synagogues and schools, were last put on a level 4 alert following a gunman’s attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014 that left four people dead.

The rest of the country remained on a level 3 alert into Monday.

“What we fear is an attack similar to the one in Paris, with several individuals who could possibly launch several attacks at the same time in multiple locations,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters on Sunday night. Possible targets were malls, city streets and public transport, he added.

Public transportation in Brussels remained closed on Monday, and many people worked from home due to the lack of transportation and child care, since schools also were closed.

Suspected Paris attacker Abdeslam was in Italy in August


Suspected Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam travelled through Italy in August with a companion, but his presence caused no alarm because he was not a wanted man at the time, an investigative source said on Monday.

His companion was Ahmet Dahmani, a Belgian man of Moroccan origin who was arrested in Turkey last week on suspicion of involvement in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, the source said. 

Separately, prosecutors in the southern Italian city of Bari have opened an investigation into suspected Islamist militants who passed through the port on about five different occasions between February and August on their way to Greece, another investigative source said.

This investigation has no apparent connection to the Paris attacks, the source said. Prosecutors suspect that militants, using false documents, are travelling through Italy en route to Syria.

The cases show the difficulties of policing and collecting intelligence in the 28-member European Union, where each country's security forces work independently and have different priorities.

Abdeslam is a French citizen and could therefore travel freely between countries in the European Union's Schengen area, where there are no border controls.

Since the attacks, some countries have imposed temporary controls and there have been calls for the borderless system to be scrapped.

Abdeslam, whose brother blew himself up in the Paris attacks, has been on the run since the assault that killed 130 and is the focus of a massive manhunt. 

He boarded a ferry in the south-eastern Italian port of Bari on Aug. 1 en route to Patras, Greece, the source said, with another man. Abdeslam returned from Patras to Bari by ferry on Aug. 5. The source gave no further details. 

In an interview with an Italian Web site on Monday, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano confirmed Abdeslam had passed through Italy.

“The point is that they were citizens with European passports and … they were not wanted” by police, Alfano said.