Upwards of 1,000 protesters lined the streets in Brussels Sunday, where small Israeli flags covered police blockades, showing solidarity with the victims of a Saturday shooting in which four were killed including a couple from Tel Aviv: Emanuel and Miriam Riva.
The shooting took place in the lobby of a Jewish museum in downtown Brussels inspiring many leaders and public figures, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Pope Francis I, to condemn the attack as a hateful act of anti-Semitism, though police have yet to apprehend the killer and indentify a clear motive.
A Belgian Jew brought to tears amidst Sunday's solidarity protests. (Photo: AP)
Protesters, who stood their ground outside the museum as well as the local courthouse, were responding to the call of Jewish Community Centre (CCBC), inviting "Jews and non-Jews" to the scene to ensure "that we not allow ourselves to be intimidated by anti-Semitism."
The museum's director, Philippe Blondin, welcomed these expressions of solidarity "from people on all sides who participate in our pain." The crowds observed a moment of silence to listen to the Chief Rabbi of Brussels recite Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.
Security cameras caught the killer on film as he drew an Ak-47 and began firing.
The event raised wider concerns about anti-Semitism in Europe and Belgium in particular. According to the Anti Defimation League's (ADL) recent poll, the Global 100 Index of Anti-Semitism, racially motivated attacks against Jews in Belgium had dropped in the last year, but the report stated that 27 percent of Belgian adults harbored strong anti-Semitic views.
"Will we slip down this dangerous slope?" asked the outgoing chairman of the Belgium ADL. "There's no way to know, but we have to take immediate steps."
Flowers to commemorate the fallen. (Photo: AP)
The event has also fueled already growing concerns raised by considerable gains for far-right political parties in European and local elections which were concluded Sunday.
"The rise in Europe of openly anti-Semitic political parties, the proliferation of clearly anti-Semitic expressions on social media platforms and the disturbingly high levels of anti-Semitic attitudes in many places in Europe contribute to a witches’ brew of hate in which those who are inclined to engage in violence against Jews can find encouragement,” (ADL) National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement.
Emanuel and Miriam Riva, victims from Tel Aviv.
In Belgium, Rabbi Menachem Margolin said, "Such an attack was to be expected in light of rising anti-Semitism in Europe. The governments of Europe have to take steps, words aren't enough."
The other two victims of the attack included a Belgian national who died of his wounds after being rushed to the hospital, and a French volunteer at the museum, a woman in her 60s.
Similar protests were sparked in France where hundreds came out in solidarity for the victims. "The Jews in the streets, the Jews are angry. The Jews are worried, but they're still standing," said head of the French Jewish Consistory, Joel Mergui.
The Jewish Agency in Israel also recently noted a sharp increase in French nationals moving to Israel and Ariel Kandel, the head of the Jewish Agency's French chapter said that the increase in immigrants was a result of a "climate of anti-Semitism" in France along with poor economic outlook in the Euro zone.
In response to the attack, Belgian authorities announced an increase in security at Jewish sites across the country saying, "These steps will continue until further notice."
Belgian Interior Minister Joelle Milka said, "Schools, synagogues, and cultural centers will continue to act as normal but with close-knit security and police presence." She added that the museum is scheduled to reopen on Tuesday.
AFP contributed to this report.