Belgium, with a Jewish population of about 40,000, has witnessed an increase in antisemitism in the past few years with attacks on the internet leading the charge.
In 2012, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights commissioned a survey of discrimination and hate crimes against the Jews across 9 member states. It was a landmark compilation of the perceptions, fears and concerns of European Jews. Most importantly, it led to a strengthening of the conviction at the highest level of the European Union to address the issue and the appointment of Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Coordinator on combating antisemitism.
The second survey, the results of which will be released at the end of this year, has been extended to 13 member states and will build on the understanding of European Jewry and how discrimination, harassment and hate crime has impacted this minority.
The experiences of the Jewish community in Belgium has shown that antisemitism manifests itself in different ways and is therefore difficult to tackle because the space to express prejudice has evolved with the advent of social media, along with the prejudices themselves. According to data compiled by the Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities and Unia in Belgium, antisemitic incidents on the internet account for the largest proportions of reported incidents in 2016.
This is indicative of two things. First, the measurement of what constitutes a hate crime, how threats online are treated and whether they can be prosecuted in the way law enforcement prosecutes threats in the non-virtual world needs to be clearly defined and understood by society. In a recent interview with Vocal Europe, von Schnurbein said “the things that people write, would they actually say it into the face of somebody or not?”
Secondly, it is difficult to assess what the increase in online threats actually represent. Is it now simply possible for those with antisemitic beliefs to express themselves or are conspiracy theories converting more individuals?