Photo: Eli Itkin
Avraham Guigui, Belgium's chief rabbi
Photo: Eli Itkin

Belgium's synagogues empty despite security

Chief rabbi says closing institutions means surrendering to jihadists; describes atmosphere of fear as country steps up preparedness.

Avraham Guigui, Belgium's chief rabbi, was not pleased about security decisions made in the wake of Thursday's terror raids, branding them "surrender to the jihadists".



The Jewish community in Brussels, Belgium's capital, had a tense weekend, which saw the closure of educational institutions for a day. On Saturday, soldiers spread out around the city's Jewish institutions as part of the response to the raids. But although synagogues were open, many were afraid to visit them and chose to pray at home.


Rabbi Guigui described a strained and difficult atmosphere among his community – numbering about 42,000, according to the World Jewish Congress – since May 2014, when a shooting in Brussels at the Jewish Museum of Belgium killed four.


Rabbi Guigui also represents the Conference of European Rabbis, a union of Jewish religious leaders, in European Union institutions. He met last week with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, as well as the country's interior minister and justice minister – but he is not the bearer of good tidings.


A soldier standing guard in Antwerp, Belgium (Photo: Reuters)
A soldier standing guard in Antwerp, Belgium (Photo: Reuters)


"Security is merely a means," he told Ynet. "Someone who truly wants to do harm will do so regardless. Security did not prevent what happened in France, and it did not prevent what almost happened here."


"The Jewish community's leaders and the leaders of the Consistoire are furious at the fringe elements in the community who called for rabbis to be armed," the rabbi wrote in an official statement, following such reports. "It's a serious and unacceptable danger.


"It is as though we would announce that we have no faith in the Belgian security forces who are committed to protecting our security. Tomorrow, heaven forbid, they will also ask the imams to carry weapons. It is an irresponsible declaration that brings disaster and anarchy upon us.


"We trust the Belgian government and security services to do their work as required of them, and this coming Monday, when the gates of the schools and educational institutions are opened – they will be secured by thousands of soldiers to protect the children and parents."


He called the closures "an appalling decision. I totally oppose it. Our strength was always in saying that despite everything, the institutions and synagogues would always remain open. Despite the terror threats, the community always functions properly. That's why I don't understand why they decided to close the synagogues and schools specifically now."


Rabbi Guigui said he met with the director of Belgium's Jewish radio station on Friday. "Radio Judaica has been broadcasting every day for 35 years. It was the first Jewish station in Europe. The director, Morris Blibaum, told me with tears in his eyes that he was forced to close the station for the first time. I think it's a disaster. It's surrendering to the will of the jihadists."


Rabbi Guigui participated in memorial services organized by the Jewish community at the Great Synagogue in Paris, and has been trying to shake what he saw – and the anxiety that he and his colleagues share that terror has not spoken its last word on European soil, especially in the country that has gained the dubious title of the "number one exporter" of fighters to Islamic State frontlines.


Rabbi Guigui said he finds solace in the fact that the terrorism is not purely anti-Jewish, but rather an all-out war against the liberal powers in all of Europe. "What they want is not just to destroy the Jewish communities here.


"They want to destroy the rule of democracy. They want to topple the principles of democracy on which Europe is built, and the war we are fighting today is not 'for the Jews', but for human rights, freedom, and liberty.


"Last Wednesday I participated in a trilateral meeting with the Belgian prime minister, interior minister, and justice minister – a meeting to which all religious leaders were invited, with the goal of creating an inter-faith dialogue, and see how we can create coexistence. At the same time, he promised to take much more aggressive steps in the war against terrorism."


פרסום ראשון: 01.18.15, 21:30
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