On October 25, 2015 in Antwerp a demonstration took place, a demonstration, which unlike many others in Europe, promoted peace and understanding. A similar one took place in August 2015 in Brussels called the Shalom Festival. These events seek to raise awareness of the need to fight antisemitism and religious extremism, which prevents people and nations from co-existing peacefully.
The Shalom Festival is an initiative of the Alliance for Peace in the Middle East, the Belgian Coalition for Israel, B’nai B’rith Antwerp, Koinonia Ministries, ORT Belgium, Christians for Israel, Beautiful Israel, Anet and Chretien Amis d’Israël.
What is so important or unique about these demonstrations? First, it was a pro-Israel rally, which is a rare event in Europe. Second, it brought together people of different faiths and backgrounds. The organizers were proud to announce that in attendance in Antwerp were “European, Asian and African people, evangelical Christians, religious and secular Jews, representatives of various political parties.”
During the event in Antwerp, those in attendance were reminded that peace is not achieved by being passive. In these times of chaos in the Middle East when Christians as young as twelve years old are being tortured and crucified, and Jews as young as two are being stabbed in the streets of Jerusalem, it is encouraging to see people come together to celebrate peace and speak out against evil, including the evil distortions and lies spread about Israel and the Jewish people.
This event also serves as a “bridge builder” between the Jewish and Christian communities. Ruth Isaac, Communications & Media Manager for the Shalom Festival, said:
“This initiative has really helped to build strong bridges between Christian and Jewish people locally. There are Jewish people who have told me personally that they have experienced a new level of anti-Semitism since last year’s conflict in Gaza and are very appreciative of the fact that we stand with them publicly and are willing to challenge the propaganda against Israel.”
Isaac points out: “These are mainly older people and they are the most vulnerable”. Many of them are not able to leave, and as they see the world turn against Israel, they feel threatened. Initiatives like the Shalom Festival serve as an encouragement to these dear people.
Israelis have also expressed that it is rare for them to see such a positive celebration of Israel outside their country. Isaac reflects: “this meant a lot to them given the level of hostility they face around the world.”
When asked if the festival has been well received by local leadership, Isaac said, “Despite initial opposition by some local authority officials in the past, the current mayor of Brussels and mayor of Antwerp have both been very supportive.”
Another poignant event at the demonstrations was the reading of The Shalom Declaration. This declaration affirms that Christians are inheritors of spiritual and Scriptural truths from the Hebrew Bible and extend love and solidarity to those in the Middle East and Israel who have lost loved ones due to religious extremism. The declaration ends with a challenge:
“And we call upon the spiritual leaders and elected representatives of our nation to work tirelessly to combat anti-Semitism and violent extremism across the world and to strengthen understanding and co-operation between the peoples of our nation and of Israel.”
These are much needed words during a time when Israel is being vilified by many in Europe and is chastised by those with moral myopia and historical illiteracy. We need more Shalom Festivals. For every pro-Palestinian hate-fest rally where screams of “death to Israel” and “intifada” are heard, there should be two Shalom Festivals. Good and thinking people should not let evil and bigotry have the louder voice.
“Christians, in particular, are the strongest supporters of Israel and their voice really matters”, Isaac said. “We count on them to carry the message of Shalom and let the world know that the propaganda and lies against Israel are false.” The Shalom Festival is a volunteer driven initiative; volunteers from all different backgrounds are welcomed to help them share the message of peace.