Diplomacy & defense

MK Ofir Akunis (holding map) meets with Flemish Interest delegates
Visit of Belgian "Flemish Interest" group organized by West Bank settlement council

Ofir Akunis, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, met last week with a visiting delegation from an extremist right-wing party in Belgium that the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community are boycotting.

Akunis, the former spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote about the meeting on his Facebook page and posted a photo of himself with members of Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), including Filip Dewinter, known as “Belgium’s Jean-Marie Le Pen.”

According to Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, the meeting was organized by the head of the West Bank's Samaria Regional Council, Gershon Mesika.

Mesika presented the "Flemish Interest" members to Israeli politicians and media outlets as a delegation from the Belgian parliament that supports West Bank settlements and is opposed to boycotting Israel. In 2010, Mesika brought to Israel the leader of Austria’s extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache.

"Flemish Interest" is a separatist party that supports independence from Belgium for Flanders. Its platform warns against the “Islamization of Europe,” calls for restrictions on immigration amnesty and for amnesty to Flemish Nazi collaborators, as well as the abolition of laws against racism and Holocaust denial, on the grounds of freedom of expression.

A senior diplomat told Haaretz that the Israeli Embassy in Brussels and Belgium’s Jewish community, along with the majority of Belgian political parties, view "Flemish Interest" as pariahs.

“It’s a nationalist-populist party with racist and anti-Semitic elements characteristic of the European extreme right,” the official said. "The party promotes xenophobia and legitimizes the cooperation of Flemish nationalists with Nazi Germany. The fact that this party is desperately seeking a kosher stamp from Jews does not mean we can blindly accept their statements, that pretend to be pro-Israel. Whoever recklessly, criminally opens the door to extremist nationalists will be unable to escape responsibility when rising European xenophobia harms them or those close to them."

“Expressions by the parliament members as implied in the article were not brought to the deputy minister’s attention before the meeting and were not raised during it. [Akunis] condemns harshly all expressions of racism and support for fascist movements,” his spokesman said in response.

The Samaria Regional Council said "Flemish Interest" is not anti-Semitic, adding that it is very friendly toward Israel and the Jewish community. The statement noted that Mesika’s family were Holocaust survivors, and expressed regret for the participation of Haaretz in the attempt to besmirch the reputation of its political rivals.

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