THE HAGUE (JTA) — Dozens of haredi Orthodox schoolchildren participated in a Lag b’Omer bonfire in Antwerp that featured the burning of an Israeli flag.
An eyewitness who photographed the event on May 10 said the boys attended a cheder of the Satmar community — an anti-Zionist Chasidic stream of approximately 150,000 adherents worldwide.
The picture, taken in an interior courtyard, shows a middle-aged man burning a handmade Israeli flag as some 30 boys watch.
“This is one of the first times we have seen this sort of thing in recent years,” Michael Freilich, editor in chief of Belgium’s leading Jewish publication, Joods Actueel, told JTA.
According to Freilich, the flag-burning ceremony provoked “a lot of anger” within Antwerp’s haredi Orthodox community. Followers of the Chasidic schools of Lubavitch and Belz spoke out against the burning, Freilich said, but the Satmar leadership in Antwerp remains unrepentant.
The last organized instance of flag burning by Belgian Jews was in the 1980s during a few demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy.
The Satmar movement opposes Zionism because it believes the establishment of a Jewish state should only come after the arrival of the Jewish Messiah.
“Regardless of the complexities of attitudes to Israel in the ultra-Orthodox world," Freilich said, "many feel that the political act of burning a flag is wholly inappropriate during a Jewish holiday like Lag b’Omer, which is meant to unite, not divide.”