Belgium is a small European country, with a population of about 11 million people, 60 percent of whom are Dutch-speaking Flemish and 40 percent French-speaking Walloons. In 2008, it was estimated that Muslims consist of 6 percent of the population,274 the majority of whom live in the major cities, especially the Brussels-Capital Region. A large Jewish community, mostly Hassidic-Orthodox, live in Antwerp.
On the whole, there are no large scale activities connected to the delegitimization campaign taking place in Belgium. The last significant “direct action” demonstration apparently took place in 2009,275 toward the end of Operation Cast Lead. Almost all activities are led by far-left activists, who are sometimes joined by Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates. BDS campus activism has been recorded in the past few years, as well as small scale demonstrations. In September 2014, a pro-Palestinian conference was organized by Laurent Louis, a former member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives who had been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. Among those featured in the event was the French anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné.276
Belgium’s importance should be seen in the context of its essential role in the European Union structures. Brussels is considered the de facto capital of the European Union, having a long history of hosting some of its main institutions. Thus, EU institutions are at the heart of political and lobbying activities, either from Belgium-based organizations or from abroad.
In early November 2017, for example, the first European Conference on Israeli settlement activity took place in Brussels, bringing together “Representatives from 24 European countries, including parliamentarians, legal experts, journalists, and activists.” These signed the Brussels Declaration, which accused Israel of creating an “apartheid regime” in the West Bank.277 The conference was reportedly organized by two official PLO bodies headed by Tayseer Khaled – the National Bureau for Defending Land and Resisting Settlements and the Department for Palestine Expatriate Affairs (PEAD), in cooperation with other European bodies, some of which are covered in other chapters of this work. Two of the partner organizers are based in Belgium and will be covered here – they are the European Coordination of Communities and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) and the Association Belgo Palestinienne (ABP).278
A significant opportunity for staunch supporters of the Palestinian “struggle for liberation” to affect EU policies via the professional route comes from the EU and other official institutions’ growing reliance on NGOs as consultants. An important example is Ben Hayes, a fellow of the Transnational Institute who has worked for the civil liberties organization Statewatch since 1996, “specializing in international and national security and policing policies.”280 Ben Hayes also serves as a consultant to the European Parliament, the European Commission, and other agencies on subjects such as national and international security, terror laws, and the like.
In November 2010, Hayes was listed as a speaker at the London session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, sharing a platform with BDS leaders like Jamal Juma’a. Hayes spoke in a session dedicated to “The Security Industry and the War Industry” – “providing details relating to EU subsidies to the security industry.”281 In February 2013, Hayes was pictured at a meeting with BNC’s European coordinator Michael Deas, following a BDS seminar that took place in Belgium.282 In a 2005 essay titled “There is no “balance” between security and civil liberties – just less of each,” while discussing the UK Terrorism Act 2000, Hayes maintained: “So the illegal invasion of Iraq by the United States and UK was justified, but the Palestinian Intifada, for example, is not. This position is not just hypocritical: the criminalization of liberation struggles brings with it the criminalization of solidarity.”283
In May 2016, Hayes was an author of a report produced by the controversial British group CAGE that dealt with the UK government’s counter radicalization strategy PREVENT, aiming to reveal “groups and ‘products’ involved in covert government propaganda programme” and demonstrate “How the Home Office has misled the British public, pushing state-sponsored propaganda at or about Muslims using seemingly independent groups and projects.”285
Finally, the headquarters of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) have been located in Brussels approximately since 2007.286 FIOE is an umbrella group comprised of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated national bodies across Europe.