A party to celebrate the start of Belgium’s presidency of the European Union was disrupted by activists shouting pro-Palestinian chants and waving Palestinian flags.
The event on January 6, hosted in the city of Mechelen, was interrupted for around 15 minutes. Among the performers was poet Hind Eljadid, who was set to read a haiku from Herman van Rompuy, former President of the European Council, but instead made pro-Palestinian remarks.
That was followed by a number of protestors in the crowd yelling “Free Palestine” and “ceasefire now”, with some waving Palestinian flags.
'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free'! In hartje Mechelen werd opgeroepen tot de vernietiging van #Israël.
Burgemeester Somers pakt ze met fluwelen handschoentjes aan. Het hadden eens vendelzwaaiende Vlaams-nationalisten moeten zijn die dat EU-feest verstoorden! 👇🏻 pic.twitter.com/bG53veKuqY
— Sam van Rooy (@SamvanRooy1) January 7, 2024
Some demonstrators were removed by police, with 10 administratively detained.
Following the disturbance and with other performers backstage not keen to step up, the mayor of the town Bart Somers, took the stage and said: “The activists have been able to make their point, we live in a free society and whether we are for or against this does not matter much.
“But the people who are here to celebrate also have a right to do so. Therefore, let us continue to enjoy this opening celebration here together respectfully.”
Unfortunately, just as the music was set to begin again, a technical breakdown led to further delay. After that was resolved, the organisers were able to continue the show.
Laura Tesoro, a local singer, performed with a Palestinian flag and praised the protest, exhorting at one point the controversial chant: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
She later explained her stance on social media, where she received mixed reactions.
— Laura Tesoro (@reallauratesoro) January 8, 2024
Referring to the protest as a “short tedious interlude”, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon told the audience: “No decisions about Europe are being taken here today. This is a cultural spectacle. I don’t feel personally addressed.
“I regret that people are misusing this beautiful event in this way.”
Officially, the purpose of the gathering was to highlight the value of culture.
Jambon, who is also the culture minister in the Flemish Government, said he regretted that the protest had overshadowed the ceremony.
“I therefore have no sympathy for this. You don’t disrupt a party like this,” he told a local news channel.
“There are plenty of occasions for demonstrating. You should also respect the thousands of people who have come for the show.
“Let us use the start of the EU presidency to effectively connect people.”