The likely closure, in coming months, of the Maimonides Jewish school in Brussels — as reported earlier this week in the Times of Israel — comes as no surprise to those familiar with the local Jewish community and its vicissitudes.
Put simply, the school is too close to trouble and too far from Jews to survive. Established in a once bustling Jewish neighbourhood near Brussels’ Gare du Midi station, Maimonides has bled for years as the Jewish population gradually moved to leafy suburbs reflecting its improved socio-economic standing.
But the replacement of Jews in the neighbourhood by Muslim immigrants has made matters worse for the school. As random assaults on Jewish pupils have multiplied, parents moved them to other institutions that were closer to their new homes and less exposed to intolerance.
Much like elsewhere in Europe, Muslim immigrants have been disinclined to treat Jews the way they demand that Christians treat Muslims. While the sharp rise of antisemitic incidents in Western Europe since late 2000 is not attributable only to Muslims, a considerable percentage of episodes implicate immigrants of Muslim background.
Those include the most violent incidents, such as the kidnap and murder in Paris of Eitan Halimi, in 2006, and the terror attack last year against a Jewish school in Toulouse, which left three pupils and a teacher dead.
All this has been compounded by the slow recognition of the threat by authorities and, in some cases, the reticence of many media outlets and members of the intellectual class, to acknowledge the seriousness of the danger posed by Muslim antisemitism not just to Jews but to society in general.
While French authorities were swift to condemn the Toulouse attack and to offer remedies, Belgium’s public response to the daily trickle of incidents has been far more ambiguous. Meanwhile, Belgian campuses have repeatedly given a platform to Islamists and antisemites, in the name of free speech. Islamists now sit in local councils thanks to their victory in last autumn’s local elections. Their right to spew venom is often challenged only by a few solitary Jewish leaders, while the venom itself is seldom reported in the mainstream media — an indifference which often borders on complicity.
The flight of Jews and their institutions from erstwhile friendly urban areas is not unique to Brussels. Many will no doubt be reminded of London’s East End, although the transition was less dramatic and the intolerance one occasionally encounters there today is not what made London Jews migrate to different suburbs.
Such demographic changes are slowly occurring elsewhere in Europe — and Jews invariably relocate. But one cannot flee forever — and unless the problem of antisemitism among Muslim immigrant communities is seriously addressed by the law enforcement community, by public intellectuals and by Muslim leaders, it will permanently change the fabric of European societies, undermining the tolerant foundations on which a united Europe purports to stand.