Thursday 5 June 2008

Belgium: former minister André Flahaut files libel suite against Jewish leader

From the EJF:

"A former Belgian minister has filed a libel suit against the head of CCOJB, the umbrella group of Belgian Jewish organizations, who reported anti-Jewish comments made by the politician during a pro-Palestinian demonstration.

Socialist MP André Flahaut, who was Defense Minister in the previous Belgian government, sparked the ire of the Jewish community after reportedly comparing Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians to the fate of the Jews during World War II.

He later denied having made anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli declarations during the gathering organized end May in the city of Nivelles by a group called “Just Peace in the Middle East” to commemorate the expulsion of Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Images of the gathering and of Flahaut’s speech were later aired on You Tube by the CCOJB, the umbrella group of Belgian Jewish organizations.

Flahaut said he had been heckled by Joel Rubinfeld, the CCOJB president, “before he had the opportunity to speak at the meeting”. He also blamed the Jewish leader for having publicly threatened him with a "retort from the Jewish community."

In a press release, Flahaut said he has "never stopped fighting against all demonstrations of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.”

He said that his declarations have been "abbreviated" and asked the court to view all videos taken during the demonstration on the market place of Nivelles which also featured a staged repression of Palestinians by people disguised in Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli embassy in Belgium protested against the organization of the demonstration which, it said, "trivializes and simplifies the Mideast situation” and “manipulates the public."

Reacting on Flahaut’s decision to sue him and the CCOJB, Rubinfeld said he hoped the court proceedings "will give the opportunity to finally open a large debate over how anti-Semitism has developed through attacks against Israel."

"Anti-Zionism is hiding shameful anti-Semitism," he said."I am serene because there are European rules prohibiting anti-Semitic remarks," he added.

Elected at the head of the Belgian Jewish group last year after a disputed battle, the 39-year-old Rubinfeld is seen as a "more pro-Israel militant" than his predecessor.

He recently called on Belgian King Albert II to make a statement recognizing the responsibility of state officials in the deportation of Jews from Belgium to Nazi death camps during WWII, like former French president Jacques Chirac did several years ago."


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