Murder in Brussels-The Smurfs and the Cultural Origins of Belgian Anti Semitism

Yesterday, an anti Semitic terrorist and accomplices killed four people, including two Israeli tourists visiting the Jewish Museum in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, NATO and the European Union. These murders come only a few weeks after Rabbi Menachem Margolin briefed a high level delegation of European Union officials on the state of anti Semitism in the world, and which documents a dramatic rise in anti Semitism across European countries. Despite this heightened threat to the Jews of Belgium, the Belgian state security services were unable to protect the Museum and its visitors from violent death.

Perhaps this is because they do not really want to. And perhaps this is somehow connected to the Belgian Ministry of Education’s recent creation and distribution of Holocaust Remembrance material in Belgian schools that demonizes Israel and Israelis, and by association Jews, while portraying Palestinian Arabs as victims of Jewish malevolence.

As the Gatestone Institute has reported, these teaching materials include typical examples such as the following “role play” for young students.

One of the roles assigned to a child is the following: “You have sympathy for the radical group Hamas. You live in Gaza and go to work every day in Israel. It takes you four hours to go to work, as you need to pass the border control between Gaza and Israel. You are already on your way at 4 a.m. You have two children in primary school. As a consequence, the death of a Palestinian girl shot by Israeli soldiers in the school playground has shocked you deeply. Israel denies having shot the children, but according to representatives of the United Nations in Gaza everything indicates that she was killed by the Israelis. Hamas has fired six rockets towards Israel. Israel has to stop with its attacks.”

This is just one example out of many that includes cartoons of an anti Semitic nature. I have reproduced one of the most offensive of these cartoons below, for there is a clear visual connection to the barbed wire fences of Nazi concentration camps and the related implication that Israelis are treating Palestinians like Nazis, something that is widely promoted by many European journalists and writers. Please note in the cartoon the cynical use of the Holocaust remembrance quote made famous by author and concentration camp, survivor Elie Wiesel

Credit: Carlos Latuff, 2009

For a growing number of contemporary Europeans, Holocaust education now means telling children that Israelis act like Nazis. And so, according to this twisted logic, if you want to oppose Nazis and Nazism, you need to oppose its latest manifestation, the state of Israel and the IDF. And just like during the crusades, if you cannot get to the Holy Land to kill Jews, you can kill the local Jews as in France, (or as in Belgium, Israeli visitors), something that medieval crusaders, from what was then Belgium did, once upon a time, with much enthusiasm.

For those who know their Belgian history, one recalls that in 1350, the Jewish communities of Antwerp and Brussels, were exterminated (that means the locals killed off all the Jews) because their Christian neighbours blamed them for the Black Death, a plague brought by rats from middle eastern ports that killed about a quarter of the population of Europe. The locals probably thought that powerful Jewish sorcerers had brought this plague down upon them. Hold that thought while you read the following paragraphs, as you may be in for a surprise.

Since cartoons are part and parcel of the Belgian government’s Holocaust education for primary schools, it would appear that these old Belgian, anti Semitic cultural patterns are easy to revive. Readers may be surprised that decades ago they were exported to the US and Canada. I am referring to a famous Belgian cartoon that for many years has found its way into the hearts and minds of millions of North American TV and filmgoers; the cartoon and film series called the Smurfs.

The Smurfs are a creation of the late Belgian cartoonist whose writing name was Peyo, and who passed away on December 24, 1992. The Smurfs are blue and elf like. They are portrayed as a lovable group of northern European peasants who live in communal harmony. They dwell in a magical forest in a village of mushroom houses. Their life is pleasant and carefree except for the fact that they are constantly threatened by an evil sorcerer named Gargamel, and his cruel assistant Azrael, who desire to eat the Smurfs, turn them into slaves and other nasty things, so that they can get ahead in the world.

Three years ago French sociologist Antoine Bueno, published what he calls The Little Blue Book and where he analyzed many aspects of the Smurf narratives. One of his conclusions is that they are permeated with deep anti Semitic and racist themes. His thesis is best exemplified by a classical anti Semitic motif that goes back to the culture of the middle ages in the area that Belgium now occupies, and that is embodied in the evil wizard Gargamel, who is the arch enemy of the Smurfs.

Gargamel has a Hebrew sounding name (El as in Gabriel or Raphael is one of the Hebrew names of God.) He is bald, with a hooked nose typical of the most classical anti Semitic European cartoons. He wants to eat the Smurfs (Readers should note that one of the major medieval anti Semitic fantasies for which many Jews were killed, is the ‘Blood Libel,’ where it was falsely believed that Jews killed Christian children so that they could feast on their blood during Passover).

Gargamel also wants to capture Smurfs so that he can revenge himself upon them by turning them into a potion that will make gold, another anti Semitic stereotype of the Jew who is obsessed with money. Gargamel is ugly with rotten teeth and he sucks out the “blue energy” of the Smurfs so that he can develop unlimited sorcery powers.

And of course Gargamel’s perfidy runs in the family. His father is called Lord Balthazar (another Hebrew sounding name). He is more cruel than Gargamel, a more powerful sorcerer, lives in a castle, has a raven that spies for him and keeps a dragon in the moat of his castle. Clearly this malevolence is collective and “runs in the family.”

These features of Gargamel and his family are important, for as the late great scholar of medieval Jewish magic, Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg once wrote, Europeans during the Middle Ages thought of Jews as powerful and often malevolent sorcerers. Trachtenberg writes that throughput the middle ages although the Jews were powerless, persecuted and were often massacred, the Christian peasants around them thought that they constituted lineages of powerful and malevolent sorcerers. He writes:

The striking feature of the Christian apprehension of Jewish sorcery is that it adhered not to certain specific Jews, who had aroused it by their actions, but rather to the entire people, en masse. Consequently every innocent Jewish act which by its strangeness laid itself open to suspicion was considered a diabolical device for working magic against Christians.

Trachtenberg also points out that according to medieval Christian thought the Jewish sorcerer is also a poisoner. He writes,

Another form which the charge of sorcery took was the recurrent accusation against Jews during the Middle Ages of feeding poisons to their enemies. Not alone were physicians accused of poisoning their patients, but Jews in general were considered especially adept in this art. In the Rhineland, in 1090, we learn of Jews dealing in various drugs and salves, and since the exotic elements of the medieval pharmacopoeia were imported from the East, we may surmise that during this period such items were part of the regular stock in trade of Jewish merchants.

After reading this we should not be surprised to discover that Jews were often stoned to death by Christian mobs, because they were accused of sorcery.Here is a chilling example of this attitude at work describing an attack on a high level Jewish visit to England’s King Richard he Lion Heart:

…the most violent mob assault upon Jews in England, which overwhelmed every major Jewish community and took a tragic toll of martyrs, had its inception at the coronation of Richard I in London on September 3, 1189. On that occasion a Jewish delegation bearing gifts and pledges of allegiance was driven from the palace, publicly accused of having come to cast their enchantments over the newly crowned king, and was set upon by the crowd; the outbreak spread rapidly through the city and the land, took more than half a year to spend itself and left in its wake a trail of horrible butcheries… Such manifestations, in greater or lesser degree, were the usual concomitant of a like accusation.

Since 1945 Europe has been struggling to make sense of the Holocaust against the Jews that was orchestrated by the Nazis and, which was actively facilitated by a majority of Europeans. With the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 this was supposed to usher in a new era of equality between Christianity and Judaism, Israel and Europe. This has not happened.

A growing number of Europeans are now treating Israel, Israelis and Jews in Europe, the way they treated Jews during the middle ages, as embodiments of evil. And the pervasive stereotypes of Jews that are part and parcel of Belgian creation cultural exports like the Smurfs, does not help European or North American children rid themselves of medieval anti Jewish stereotypes from the European folk tales that have migrated to TV and film.

As Freudians would argue, a growing number of Europeans are returning to their repressed medieval beliefs about the wickedness of Jews, and acting upon them. And then, they project their own hostility on to the Jews, thus providing themselves with the justification to attack them or stand by as they are murdered. Bearing this in mind we ask, “What five year old, if given the chance, would not feel justified in liquidating Gargamel and his nefarious allies so that the “blue blooded” Smurfs can be left in peace?”


About the Author
Geoffrey Clarfield is an anthropologist at large. Having spent more than twenty years living and working in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, he offers readers a cross cultural perspective on the pressing issues of our times. He has contributed numerous articles to the National Post, the Globe and Mail, the New York Post, the Brooklyn Rail, the American Thinker, Books in Canada, Minerva Magazine and is a Contributing Editor at the New English Review.