The Jewish Museum of Brussels was attacked on Saturday by an unidentified gunman, leaving three dead. Responsibility has not been claimed for the event, though officials have called it an anti-Semitic act.
Joëlle Milquet, Belgium’s interior minister, confirmed two women and one man dead, adding that a fourth person had been seriously wounded. The sole attacker was first said to have fled the scene from a parked car outside the Place du Grand Sablon, a high-end market place near the museum. Later reports indicated he had escaped on foot.
Brussels officials have not yet confirmed local media reports of an arrest. Didier Reynders, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister, was in the area during the attack and rushed to the scene after hearing gun shots.
Saying he was “shocked” at the sight of dead bodies Reynders added, “you cannot help [but] think…when we see a Jewish museum…of an anti-Semitic act.” Though the motive behind the attack has not been determined, some in Brussels point towards the rising popularity of far-right political groups, with a history of anti-Semitism.
The shooting coincided with the night of elections for Belgium’s national legislature, as well as the European Parliament, where some far-right groups are gaining significant traction. The attack had many on edge, as it took place less than a day before the close of the European legislature vote.
“[This was] an attack on European values which we cannot tolerate,” said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Union’s executive arm. While Barroso has continuously warned of rising anti-Semitism from ring-wing nationalists opposed to European alliance, some surveys suggest it stems from elsewhere.
In a number of European countries, including Belgium, an E.U. discrimination agency found more anti-Semitism in politically left areas and Muslim communities. The Fundamental Rights Agency’s survey determined Belgium had the third highest rate of anti-Semitism in Eupore, only behind France and Hungary. No matter the cause, officials in Brussels believe the attitude towards the Jewish community is indeed shifting.
Executive vice president of the European Jewish Congress Raya Kalenova, suspects that the Jewish Museum attack in Brussels, which left three dead, may also be due in part to an rising “anti-Israel sentiment” in Belgium. “The spirit of the [Belgian] Jewish people…is really, very, very low,” she said. “They do not feel protected.”
Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the attack calling it “the result of endless incitement against the [Jewish people] and their state.”
Maurice Sosnowski, a Jewish community leader in Belgium, called Saturday’s shooting the first anti-Semitic terrorist attack in Brussels since World War II. He then reflected on the 2012 shooting in Toulouse, France, which left four dead at a Jewish school.
There appears to be some optimism in Brussels, though, as the Belgian-Palestine Association head Pierre Galand interrupted his speech against Israel to give a moment of silence to victims. Calling the attack a crime of “primitive anti-Semitism,” Galand echoed the sentiments of Elio Di Rupo, Belgium’s Prime Minister.
“All Belgians,” said Di Rupo, “whatever their language…origins or…beliefs, are united in face of this [attack].” No motive for the museum attack has been confirmed, though the death of three at a Jewish site has reignited anti-Semitism concerns in Brussels.
By Erin P. Friar