In the next fifty years, there will be no more Jews living in Antwerp due to mounting anti-Semitism and unemployment, a Belgian newspaper has reported.
De Standaard reports that Jews are deserting Antwerp for international cities such as New York, Tel Aviv and London as Belgium’s outspoken criticisms of Israel are fueling religiously-based attacks. Young religious Jews in particular are seeking educational opportunities abroad, where they can wear their religious attire without feeling targeted in public and live more freely.
The Belgian-based Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism noted that anti-Semitism had skyrocketed in Belgium in 2009. More than 60 incidents involving anti-Semitism were reported in the first quarter of last year alone. Roughly the same number were recorded per year between 2004 and 2008. Hate mail accounts for nearly one-third of the abuse, while the rest involves physical harassment and heckling.
About 15, 000 Jews currently live in Antwerp, one of the largest Orthodox communities in the Jewish Diaspora. All of the synagogues are Orthodox, and nearly all Jewish children attend religious schools. Following the end of World War II, when more than half the Jewish population perished, their situation has been relatively unique. In addition to hosting one of the world’s largest contingents of Orthodox or Hasidic Jews, they are one of the last Jewish communities to live and work in a defined part of the city.
Antwerp’s Jews traditionally work in the diamond industry, which controls nearly 75 percent of the global diamond trade, and are known for their fine craftsmanship. Although the industry has flourished since the 16th century, when Belgium was a major port of trade between Asia, Africa, and the rest of Europe, outsourcing and the increasing presence of Indian merchants are forcing many Jews to seek employment opportunities abroad.
While Jews accounted for seventy percent of the diamond sector fifteen years ago, they now represent just thirty percent of the industry, according to De Standaard. At the 2010 Antwerp World Diamond Centre elections, Gujarati Indians made a clean-sweep of the six contested board seats and now run some of the leading diamond companies.
The article does note that the Hasidic population is growing, but their desire to strictly uphold their faith prevents them from accessing social benefits and employment opportunities. In many cases, their insularity relegates them to immense poverty in the city outskirts.