Israeli diplomat paints bleak portrait of Europe

In Belgium, a nation of not quite 10 million, there are seven parliaments. There are six separate regional governments, complete with ministers and legislators. Each separate government is ruled by a differing coalition, and matters such as trade or foreign affairs are often handled by different bodies.

All that often leaves Jehudi Kinar a very confused man.

“When Israel says to go and work with the Belgians, I don’t know where to start,” Israel’s ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg told a San Francisco audience last month, eliciting more than a few laughs.

It was a return to the Bay Area for Kinar, who served as the San Francisco consul general from 1993 to 1995.

His momentary humor during an American Jewish Committee lunchtime meeting was one of the few moments of levity in an otherwise bleak and, at times, scary evaluation of the state of modern-day Europe.

While Belgium is best known for chocolate and monastically brewed beer, the Dutch-born Kinar gravely noted that there are parts of French-speaking Brussels where even the police won’t go anymore.

“The local mosques teach an extremist version of the Koran. The Saudis finance it some. There is little talking between the Jewish and Muslim communities. The extreme right, as in other European countries, carries the anti-Muslim banner and in some rare cases, the Jews have joined the extreme right because of their fear of Islam,” said Kinar.

Many Belgian Muslims do not care to integrate into general society and, in turn, have not been offered much of a chance to do so. Things are so bad, Kinar said, that many of the nation’s Muslims don’t even send their children to public schools.

“We can expect that which happened in France to happen in other countries,” he said, referring to massive riots in France’s poor suburbs, largely inhabited by Muslims of North African descent.

“I am not very optimistic about it. I fear for Belgium.”

Kinar spread the blame for the state of things far and wide. He blasted the governments of France, Belgium and, to a lesser extent, his native Netherlands for not making an effort to aid and integrate the waves of impoverished Muslim immigrants.

He blamed opportunistic imams for making easy pickings of poor, uneducated and desperate immigrant populations.

And he lumped particular enmity on the Belgian government for kowtowing to anti-Semites.

This year, for example, the city of Antwerp’s designated poet is a Palestinian man living in Holland.

“It’s a pity,” Kinar said snidely. “They can’t even find someone from Belgium to make anti-Israel remarks, they have to bring in someone from elsewhere.”

Belgium’s self-granted ability to prosecute “war criminals” whose alleged crimes and victims were in no way tied to Belgium created many headaches for Kinar back in 2002. Prosecutors quickly zeroed in on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s admission of indirect culpability in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and Kinar was withdrawn to Jerusalem before he’d even had a chance to present his credentials.

When ruminations began circulating about Belgian prosecutors attempting to try President George H.W. Bush and Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, the United States was immediately in Israel’s corner. When talk of relocating a NATO base out of Belgium and into Warsaw came up, the Belgians backed down.

The soft-spoken Kinar noted that things have improved between the Belgians and Israelis in recent years; the Belgian prime minister recently visited Yad Vashem, while the nations’ foreign ministers have hosted one another.

Still, things are far from perfect. Israeli or pro-Israeli speakers won’t be invited to lecture before a university crowd, he noted.

When asked how life might be for an Israeli studying in Belgium, he quickly shot back, “What Israeli would go to school in Belgium instead of Germany?”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.