Saturday, 28 February 2009

Belgium: Brussels parliament boycotts Israel, but not Lybia ...

"If you want to talk about being critical of Israel, that is a feeling among many Europeans, so how can you characterize that as Muslim? There is no such thing as a Muslim issue in Europe or growing Muslim influence on politicians." (Susanne Nies, head of the French Institute of International Relations)

Source: article "Politics and power: The Muslim factor in European politics" by Dinah A. Spritzer in JTA

"Viviane Teitelbaum was a new member of Brussels' regional legislature when she sponsored a bill in 2005 to renew the region's scientific and industrial research agreement with Israel.

Legislators had frozen the cooperation pact three years earlier to protest what they said was the Jewish state's inhumane response to the second Palestinian intifada. But when Teitelbaum's proposal came up for discussion at a committee meeting, she says she was shouted down by Socialist Party opponents.

"The only lawmakers who showed up to the meeting were Muslim," recalled Teitelbaum, a Jewish member of the Liberal Party. "They screamed insults at me, saying, 'Israel is a fascist country. You will never get this passed.'"

Later, at the actual vote, Teitelbaum again was shouted down. Her proposal was defeated.

Ten minutes later, she said, "We voted for an agreement between Libya and the Brussels region, and everyone supported it. It was very painful for me."

Although rarely discussed in Europe, the political impact and influence of the continent's growing Muslim population is playing an increasingly significant role in European politics. In some cases, politicians are catering to Muslim interests and concerns with an eye toward winning votes. In others, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant political parties are capitalizing on a backlash against Muslims to expand their power base.

With Muslims now roughly 5 percent of Europe's population and demographers predicting their proportion to double over the next 20 years due to birthrate disparities, their rising political awareness and ever-growing constituent base is likely to make them a factor in Europe's political constellation for decades to come.

Eventually that may translate into a tougher stance toward Israel, says Robin Shepherd, a senior research fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

"As Muslims become more electorally significant, the obvious casualty is Israel," he said.

Many European politicians, particularly those from socialist parties, long have been strong critics of Israel's dealings with the Palestinians without any prodding from European Muslims.

When the streets of Europe exploded in January during Israel's 22-day operation against Hamas in Gaza, top European political figures were among those who participated in protests against the Israeli operation. (…)

Some analysts believe Europe's Muslims will exert further pressure on political leaders when it comes to Mideast policy. (…)

Nowhere is Muslim political influence in Europe more evident than in Belgium, where fully one-third of the residents of the capital city, Brussels, are Muslim. This is more than in any other major European city except for Marseilles, France, which has roughly the same proportion of Muslims. In some of Brussels' local municipalities, Muslims account for 80 percent of the population.

Following the last election of the Brussels regional legislature, in 2004, half the 26 legislators from the Socialist Party were of Muslim background, a record high for that legislature. Some Belgians attribute the strong showing by the Socialists in that election to the party's outreach to Muslim immigrants and the record number of candidates with Muslim names on the ticket. (...)

The mere discussion of Muslim political influence is taboo in some corners of Europe. Several European academics interviewed by JTA refused to consider the issue, arguing that it is misguided and possibly racist because it addresses the religious rather than economic or cultural concerns of Muslim immigrants.

It's not Muslims, it's Europeans

Susanne Nies, head of the French Institute of International Relations in Brussels, said religion plays no role in Europe's secular politics. "If you want to talk about being critical of Israel, that is a feeling among many Europeans, so how can you characterize that as Muslim?" she said. "There is no such thing as a Muslim issue in Europe or growing Muslim influence on politicians."

To be sure, many European politicians have their biases against Israel. On Jan. 23, the minister of culture, youth and sport in the Flemish government in Belgium, Bert Anciaux, compared a deadly attack that day by a deranged gunman on a nursery school near Brussels to Israel's recent operation in Gaza. The Belgian Foreign Ministry later distanced itself from the remark.

A different opinion: Europeans afraid of offending Muslims

Shepherd says the 2008 mayoral campaign in London is a revealing example of Muslim influence in European politics.

In 2005, London Mayor Ken Livingstone accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and called then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a war criminal. His criticism of Israel helped win him the support of Azzam Tamimi, the director of the London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought and a public supporter of Hamas and Palestinian suicide bombers.

Tamimi mobilized British Muslims to support the mayor in his re-election bid last May, forming a group called Muslims 4 Ken that lambasted Livingstone's opponent for supporting Israel. Ultimately, however, Livingstone failed to win a third term, losing to Boris Johnson.
"Livingstone definitely sought Muslim support by slamming Israel," Shepherd said.

European governments increasingly are afraid of offending Muslims, Shepherd said, leading them to refrain from criticizing Islamic attitudes toward women or even toward terrorism.

"This is a potentially volatile constituency, as we saw with the Danish cartoon controversy," Shepherd said, referring to the widespread Muslim rioting in 2005 that followed publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed. Government leaders made sure to criticize publication of the cartoons even as they defended free speech, Shepherd noted. (…)

Last October, Rotterdam became the first major city in Europe to elect a Muslim mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb. Aboutaleb, who holds dual Dutch and Moroccan citizenship, has a reputation as a bridge builder between minority and majority groups. In 2004, after the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic extremist, Aboutaleb told an audience at an Amsterdam mosque that Muslims who do not like Dutch values should leave the country.

That is little comfort to politicians like Teitelbaum, who points out that socialist politicians who used to condemn Turkey's denial of the Armenian genocide now stay silent for fear of offending Belgium's large Turkish community.

Teitelbaum sees it as further evidence of pandering to an increasingly influential political constituency.

When, in 2005, Teitelbaum sponsored a bill condemning a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Belgium, the bill could not pass until she generalized the bill, adding condemnation of "racism and xenophobia." She was even urged by some colleagues to remove the word "anti-Semitism" from the bill.

She refused."

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- Israelis compared to Nazi SS on Belgian radio blog
- Zionism, a "Tumour in the midst of Judaism", Belgian radio forum
- Masarat, Belgium in the Middle East, by the Islam in Europe blog
- Content of Belgian-sponsored Palestinian festival irks Jews, JTA
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- Special Report: "Pierre Galand (Belgium) Using Political NGOs to Promote Demonization & Anti-Semitism in the UN & EU"

1 comment:

Carl said...

This is extremely significant reading. Thank you!