(JTA) – Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel vowed to apply a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism during visits to several Jewish institutions in Antwerp.
Michel visited the Flemish capital in northern Belgium Tuesday with that city’s mayor, Bart de Wever, and Jan Jambon, Belgium’s federal minister of security and interior affairs, at the invitation of Joods Actueel, an Antwerp-based monthly Jewish publication.
“Anti-Semitsm is unacceptable,” the Belga news agency quoted Michel as saying in Antwerp. “I want a zero tolerance policy on it.”
Security for Jews in Antwerp, where some 18,000 Jews live, was a prominent issue on the agenda during the visit by the three officials. Last year, the federal Belgian government allocated $4.5 million to providing extra security until 2017 to Belgian Jews, who have 19 schools and approximately 45 synagogues in Antwerp alone.
In addition to this funding, local and government authorities deployed a total of 115 police officers and troops to guard some 70 buildings daily throughout Antwerp. The deployment followed the slaying of four people in May 2014 at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels.
While Brussels – whose Jewish community is far more secular than the predominantly-observant community of Antwerp – has more Jewish institutions than Antwerp, “here the Jewish community is more visible, and therefore more vulnerable,” de Wever said of Antwerp.
Philippe Markiewicz, president of the Belgian Consistoire – an organ that provides religious services to Belgian Jews – thanked the officials for their support. “We are extremely honoured and glad to see Belgium taking security measures that meet our needs,” he said.
Aaron Malinsky, a local rabbi, said he hopes the troops and extra protection will “one day no longer be necessary, but we are definitely not there yet.”