Like a gunslinger in the Wild West, Netanyahu immediately demanded that the Jews in America approach "every administration official, the leaders of the evangelical movement and the Jewish media to ensure that they recommend to their communities not to visit Belgium within any framework, be it cultural or business."...A few members of Congress, acting as though they were members of the Likud Central Committee, demanded that the administration implement Netanyahu's instructions.
Ha'aretz - Week's End
Friday, February 21, 2003
Amid the sense of emergency at this week's meeting of the European Union, Jacques Chirac enjoyed the spotlight and Belgians wondered at Israel's hysterical reaction to the Sharon affair.
By Daniel Ben Simon
Bitter Belgian chocolate
While all this was going on, the Belgian capital was still in a state of shock over the heavy artillery Israel aimed at it. Immediately after the country's high court ruled that Ariel Sharon could be brought to trial for war crimes, the Belgian media was subjected to hysterical attacks by Israel. Everyone who is anyone, and everyone who thinks he is someone, sent a response to the king of Belgium or to the prime minister or to the high court, and to anyone who was ready to listen to the groans of pain that were caused by the bleeding hearts of the average Israeli.
Belgian journalists understood why Israel was upset, but found it difficult to accept its shattered cries. One reporter noted that he couldn't remember an occasion on which his country's legal system operated speedily and efficiently. The fact is that accused pedophile Marc Dutroux has not yet been brought to trial, even though the bodies of two girls were found in his basement. "Six years have gone by and nothing has happened," the reporter said scornfully about the Belgian court system. "And it's not only Dutroux. There are dozens of cases that have been dragging on for years. From that point, of view, Sharon can relax."
However, the Belgians were taken aback by the hysteria. "You always react from the gut," said a senior editor on the daily Le Matin. "You used to be judicious and serious, but in the past few years you have become more like your enemies. You have lost your cool."
He was referring to the vigorous offensive launched by Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took advantage of every possible platform to denounce Belgium. A few hours after the court published its decision, he had Yoram Ben Ze'ev, the ministry's deputy director-general for North American affairs, send an urgent cable to Israel's representatives in the United States ordering them to work against Belgium in both Houses of Congress, "both declaratively and diplomatically."
The same person who advised then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1992 to incite American Jewry against then-president George Bush to ensure that Israel received the loan guarantees it was after, reverted to his regular pattern of operation. This time he brought with him Shlomo Filber, director-general of the Yesha Council of settlements, and appointed him his bureau chief. Like a gunslinger in the Wild West, Netanyahu immediately demanded that the Jews in America approach "every administration official, the leaders of the evangelical movement and the Jewish media to ensure that they recommend to their communities not to visit Belgium within any framework, be it cultural or business."
The results were quick to follow. Contracts between the United States and Belgium were reopened, and a few members of Congress, acting as though they were members of the Likud Central Committee, demanded that the administration implement Netanyahu's instructions.
The Belgians are worried - not only by the method but by the style as well. They were taken aback when they read in their papers about the vulgar suggestion by President Moshe Katzav to the king of Belgium that he examine his past. This president, who has not left his mark on any sphere of life, was quick to get on the bandwagon and join the chorus of persecuted Jews. If he showed the same determination in domestic affairs, Israel might be the better for it.
Since the onset of the affair, the Belgian media has reported extensively on feelings in Israel. Not a day passes without someone coming up with a new suggestion for punishing Belgium. Remarks by Major General (res.) Oren Shahor got a lot of play here. He suggested setting up an Israeli commando force that would operate in Belgium to liberate Israelis who are liable to be arrested there on war crimes charges.
Amid the panic and hysteria, the comments of Tourism Minister Yitzhak Levy were also played up: He urged that an airlift be mounted in order to rescue the Jews of Belgium. If he knew anything about their life in their country, he probably would not have made himself look so foolish. Will Belgium's Jews prefer Kiryat Malachi to Brussels? Not likely. Still, the episode has placed the country's 30,000 Jews at a crossroads. It has created a rift between their two loyalties: their country finds itself involved in a vociferous and ugly quarrel with the Jewish state, and they feel they are being torn apart. As a result, they are unable to cope with the crisis at the present time.
The march of lunacy has hurt both countries and is liable to thrust them into a total impasse. The Israeli embassy in Belgium has been paralyzed for years due to the substandard performance by the former ambassador, Shaul Amor. Next Tuesday, the newly appointed ambassador, Yehuda Keinar, is scheduled to present his letter of credentials to the king. Less than an hour after the court's ruling, Netanyahu ordered the envoy to get on the first plane home. The view in Belgium is that it will be a long time before the ambassador returns and even more time before relations between the two countries return to a semblance of normality.
"At this rate you won't have many ambassadors left," joked a Belgian reporter. "You removed your ambassador from Austria, now from Belgium, and you will probably have to return the ambassador from France, too, one day, on the grounds that France is anti-Semitic. Once you were a wise nation, but these days you can hardly be accused of excessive wisdom."