Thursday, 24 May 2012

Belgian Minister slams ‘fundamentalist’ Orthodox Israeli colleague for refusing to shake hands

Laurette Onkelinx and her party (Socialist) are known to be hostile to Israël. Former ambassador to Belgium Jehudi Kinar: "Another powerful figure in the party is Laurette Onkelinx, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister. We met a number of times. She promised me she would speak with Di Rupo, as she could not believe that my letter had not been answered. Onkelinx assumed there had been a technical glitch. When we did not receive an answer from Di Rupo, I sent her a letter. She did not acknowledge it. In the new government she will be Minister for Social Affairs and Health, and again Deputy Prime Minister." Her husband, lawyer Marc Uyttendaele, wrote a nasty anti-Israel book in 2006... (See: Belgium's New Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and the Jews)

BRUSSELS (EJP)--- Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx accused an Israeli Orthodox Minister of ‘fundamentalism’ for choosing not to shake hands with her. The two health ministers met at the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva, when Onkelinx claims her Orthodox Israeli counterpart refused to shake her hand.

Yakov Litzman is Israel's Deputy Health Minister and a leader of the haredi United Torah Judaism party and, as such, does not touch members of the opposite sex under any circumstances. Onkelinx reacted to the event by posting news of it on her official Facebook page, under the heading “My hands are clean!”.

In the text that followed, she described how it was her second such “profoundly troubling” experience, the first being when she met an Iranian official: “This kind of fundamentalist attitude, connected to a certain perception of religion and women, profoundly troubles me”, the statement went on to say. The Jewish community has condemned the Belgian minister’s response, with editor of Jewish publication Joods Actueel claiming it “demonstrates her ignorance”: “Mr Litzman’s refusal to shake Ms. Onkelinx’s hand had nothing to do with any view on women or impurity...It’s the custom. A more seasoned politician would have been aware of this sensibility in advance”, said editor-in-chief Michael Freilich. Numerous bloggers also posted about the "gaffe," the majority concluding “ignorance may not kill, but it’s not a reason to take umbrage with a stranger”. [Many comments are viciously anti-Jewish and she is not on record for having complained about the Iranian official.  Furthermore, she knows full well that there are many Muslims in Brussels who do not shake hands with opposite sex, but again she does not complain about them. What's more, Pinchas Kornfeld, an orthodox Jew who lives in Antwerp claims he has met Mrs Onkelinx several times, didn't shake hands with her, and she never complained either.  Her sudden anger seems to be politically motivated - her outburst is set to please the Muslim (mainly Arab) population in Brussels put at a formidable 30% and set to grow.] 

This is not the first time that Onkelinx has courted controversy. A member of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo’s ruling Francophone Socialist Party, she caused public outcry in Belgium’s fractured social-political climate in 2007, when she compared the majority Flemish population to a type of fungus that threatens the country. She also frequently came under-fire in her previous post as Minister of Justice for failing to prevent a mass prisoner escape in 2006, as well as prematurely granting release to notorious criminals. Considered the most powerful woman in Belgian politics, the minister has frequently been touted as a future successor to Di Rupo.

Her slight of an Israeli minister is sure to rankle with a Belgian Jewish community still reeling from the recent decision by the Belgian government to join Austria as the only two EU member states to vote in favour of a UN-led investigation into West Bank settlement construction. Foreign Minister Didier Reynders has repeatedly attempted to reassure Jewish community bodies of his intention to “improve relations, particularly academic and scientific, between Belgium and Israel”.

No comments: