Belgian anti-racism official defends Palestinian he helped convict for hate speech

(JTA) – Jews from Belgium’s Flemish Region said they “lost all confidence” in the country’s anti-racism authority over its lawyer’s defence of a Palestinian man whom the lawyer helped convict for hate speech over calls to slaughter Jews.

The unusual rebuke Thursday by the Forum of Jewish Organization of Flanders came after the Jewish weekly Joods Actueel published a leaked email written by Johan Otte, a judicial expert of the Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities, or UNIA, condemning Tuesday’s conviction for incitement to violence by a criminal tribunal in Antwerp. In 2014, the man shouted anti-Semitic slogans during a protest rally in that city.

The Belgian Palestinian, according to the media in Belgium, was given a six-month suspended sentence. Two co-defendants were acquitted.

Otte’s rebuke called the sentence “distorted justice instead of true justice,” even though UNIA was one of two complainants who had initiated the trial. The other party was the Flemish Jewish forum.

“The email clearly illustrates that UNIA’s sympathy lies with the perpetrator over his would-be victims,” the Jewish group wrote in its statement.

According to the Gazet van Antwerpen daily, the defendant, who is appealing his sentence, shouted about Khaybar – a place in modern-day Saudi Arabia where in the seventh-century, Muslims massacred and expelled Jews. According to Joods Actueel, the defendant also shouted about slaughtering Jews.

Joods Actueel editor-in-chief Michael Freilich said the case was the latest in a list of failures to confront anti-Semitism by the Belgian state authority for fighting racism. He added UNIA’s track record suggests “it is only paying lip service” to the fight against anti-Semitism when in reality it fails to act on this type of racism as vigorously as it confronts other forms of xenophobia.

UNIA’s press service did not reply to requests for comment by JTA and Joods Actueel.

On Friday, Liesbeth Homans, the minister in charge of equal opportunities within the government of the Flemish Region – one of three entities that make up the federal Belgian state – called for a review of UNIA activities in light of the Joods Actueel report.

In 2011, a police superintendent, David Vroome, told Joods Actueel that an employee of UNIA’s predecessor said that Jews “think they can get away with everything because they have money, financial power but also because they keep triggering our guilt over the Holocaust.” The predecessor group defended the employee and accused the officer of a “dishonest account.”

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