Belgium, your average European country, sits the middle of Western Europe, between Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. This small country of 11 million inhabitants houses both the headquarters of NATO and the European Union. If one wants to know what life is like for Jews today in Europe, the situation in Belgium is a significant measure.
As it happens, the situation is pretty bad. And worsening. Last year, anti-Semitic abuse and violence rose by 30 percent, with 88 documented complaints, compared to 62 in the previous year. Because many victims do not complain, the actual number of incidents is definitely higher. The Belgian trend mirrors the situation in neighboring France, which saw anti-Semitic attacks rise to 614 in 2012 from 389 in 2011. The most serious incident was the murder of a rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren by an Islamic fanatic in Toulouse in March 2012.
Last month, Joods Actueel, a Jewish monthly in the Belgian city of Antwerp, which has a relatively large population of 20,000 Jews, published the shocking results of a survey among almost 4,000 schoolchildren between 14 and 18 years old.
The survey, conducted by Mark Elchardus, a sociology professor at Brussels University, showed that up to 75% of Muslim youths in the city harbor anti-Semitic feelings.
Of all Muslim schoolchildren, 50.9 percent are in total and 24.5 percent in partial agreement with the statement that Jews incite to war and blame others for it. Asked whether they think that Jews consider themselves better than other people, 49.3 percent of the Muslims youth totally and 23.6 percent partially agreed. Other statements generated similar results. 45.1 percent totally and 27.9 percent partially agree with the statement that Jews want to dominate. And 35.4 percent totally and 37.6 percent partially agree with the statement that Jews have too much influence in Belgium.
Prof. Elchardus concluded that 45 to 50 percent of Muslim schoolchildren could be labeled anti-Semitic. Of the non-Muslim schoolchildren only 10 percent could be labeled as such. The anti-Jewish feelings among non-Muslim children are only slightly lower than the 12 percent who look unfavorably upon Muslims, considering every Muslim a potential terrorist.
The situation is particularly worrying because today a growing percentage of the young population in Antwerp, a traditionally Catholic city, is Muslim. In municipal schools in the city, pupils have to choose between religious classes or non-confessional morality classes. 49.3 percent of all pupils choose Islamic religious classes, 27.7 percent choose non-confessional classes, while the number opting for Catholic classes has dropped to a mere 20.5 percent. Five years ago, the Islamic percentage was only 33.6.
Only 17 pupils opted for Jewish classes, an insignificant number compared to the 5,165 Muslim pupils. About 85 percent of Jewish children in Antwerp, however, attend Jewish schools. Antwerp has 14 subsidized Jewish schools plus a number of non-subsidized private schools.
The survey conducted by Prof. Elchardus also showed that Islamic anti-Jewish feelings are widespread among all socio-economic and ethnic groups, regardless of whether the pupils are from richer or poorer families, whether the parents consider themselves moderate and progressive or traditionalist, or whether they are of North African or Turkish origin. This leads to the conclusion that the anti-Jewish sentiments are caused by Islam, and not by socio-economic factors.
Among the non-Muslims, anti-Jewish feelings were more widespread among the non-religious group, while children from a Catholic background proved to be the least anti-Semitic, despite the fact that they tended to be more conservative and less progressive.
Asked to react to the survey, Pascal Smet, the Belgian Education minister, said that the survey proved that "youths with a negative view of others are also those youths who are from the most vulnerable socio-economic background." If anything, however, as Joods Actueel pointed out, the survey showed exactly the opposite. The magazine criticized the minister, who is a homosexual, for devoting too much attention to the gay rights agenda in Belgium's schools, while neglecting the anti-Jewish stereotypes of Islam.
The Belgian press, too, devoted little attention to the survey. Perhaps the survey's results were not considered politically correct enough. Moreover, most media attention was devoted to the fact that 25 percent of Muslim youths condone violence against homosexuals and support the death penalty for gays in Islamic countries. For the media, anti-Jewish sentiments are far less important than feelings of animosity against gays.