Operator at Belgium Terror Hotline Fired for Telling Jewish Caller Israel Doesn't Exist

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People gather to leave tributes at the Place de la Bourse in Brussels, Belgium, following three suicide bomb attacks, March 22, 2016. Carl Court/Getty Images

Belgium’s federal hotline for the extremist attacks in Brussels has fired an operator who told a Jewish caller that Israel does not exist and should be called Palestine instead.

An unidentified Jewish man called the hotline, run by the Belgian Interior Ministry, telling the operator that he was a volunteer for the city of Antwerp’s Jewish Coordination Committee.

He said he was seeking assistance for two people injured in the triple suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) on March 22, adding that they wished to be discharged from medical care as authorities “prepared to” transport them “to Israel.” The suicide bomb attacks at Brussels’ international airport and a metro station left at least 35 people dead.

The call between the operator and the Jewish man was recorded and a Belgian Jewish monthly newspaper, Joods Actueel, posted an audio file of the call to its website.

The operator responds to the statement that they will travel to Israel by saying: “That’s actually… see… back to Palestine.”

The Jewish man responded: “Not Palestine, Israel.” The operator continued to say that Israel did not exist. “Yes, but that was before Palestine, of course. It’s called Palestine, sir.”

The Jewish man challenged the operator, who said: “I know the Jews went to there, that Palestine received them and that there is a war between Israel and Palestine, of course. And the occupation… that’s what’s on the news, of course.”

The editor-in-chief of Joods Actueel, Michael Freilich, said that the incident “defies imagination” that a state employee could display such anti-Israel rhetoric to a Jewish member of society.

The call center company IPG, which has a contract to run the hotline with the Belgian Interior Ministry, subsequently fired the employee over the incident. “We wish to apologize to all members of the Jewish community and to the victims and their families in Israel,” Jac Vermeer, CEO of IPG, said.

The operator’s claim refers to the anti-Israeli activist position that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, under a U.N. agreement, took swathes of land from the Palestinians and that “historic Palestine” should stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Israel says that such a position is a call for the destruction of the country’s entire Jewish population and amounts to a call for genocide.

Palestinian militant group Hamas states in its charter that one of its aims is to remove the state of Israel to regain Palestinian land in a campaign of “liberation.”