Antwerp Jews to lose army protection under new Belgium government’s plan

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Antwerp Jews to lose army protection under new Belgium government’s plan

A clause in the plan speaks of a 'gradual withdrawal' of the military from urban centres, protecting the city's 18,000 Jews

Armed guards at a shul in Antwerp
Armed guards at a shul in Antwerp

Antwerp’s Jewish community will lose its military protection under a plan by Belgium’s new government to eliminate the presence of soldiers in urban centres.

Approximately 18,000 Jews live in the city in close proximity. Several troops protect its Jewish quarter.

A clause in the government’s plan, which was announced in the coalition agreement signed earlier this week, speaks of a “gradual withdrawal” of the military from urban centres.

“This plan is causing real alarm in the rank-and-file of the Jewish community of Antwerp,” Hans Knoop, a spokesman for the Forum of Jewish Organisations of the Flemish Region of Belgium, or FJO, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview about the plan. “Neither the actual threat nor the government’s own assessment of it have diminished.”

Thousands of troops were deployed in Belgian cities in 2015 following deadly jihadist terrorist attacks in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and at a kosher supermarket. Most have been reassigned.

The cost of the military presence in the Jewish quarter is not known, but is believed to be relatively low because of the few soldiers.

The new Cabinet’s justice minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, wrote on Twitter in February that Israel’s protests against the denigrating depiction of Jews at the carnival of Aalst were part of the “Jewish lobby” working overtime in Washington. Critics, including FJO, said the remark was antisemitic.

“We have our concerns about the new Cabinet, but have no reason to believe the deployment issue is connected to any antisemitism,” Knoop said.

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