An operator for Belgium’s terrorist attack hotline was fired last week after insisting to a Jewish caller that Israel does not exist but is instead called Palestine.
During the conversation – a recording of which was posted on the website of the Jewish newspaper Joods Actueel — the caller identified himself as a volunteer with Antwerp’s Jewish Coordination Committee.
According to excerpts of the conversation translated by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the caller said he was making an inquiry on behalf of two people injured in the suicide bombings in Brussels last month.
The double suicide bombings on March 22 at the Brussels airport and on the subway claimed the lives of 32 victims. In this photo, the glass front of the departure hall at Zaventem Bruxelles International Airport is seen blown out. (Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)
He proceeded to ask the operator what the procedure was for discharging the injured as the two were getting ready to be sent to Israel for continued medical treatment.
JTA reported that after hearing the request the operator said, “That’s actually … see … back to Palestine.”
The Jewish caller responded, “Not Palestine, Israel,” to which the operator said, “Yes, but that was before Palestine, of course.”
The operator insisted about the name Israel, “It’s called Palestine, sir,” and elaborated further, stating, “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.”
Despite the disagreement, the operator said “yes, of course” he would help with the wounded citizens’ discharge from medical care.
The operator identified himself to the caller only by his first name Zakharia.
After Joods Actueel posted the audio of the conversation, IPG, the company which runs the call center for the Belgian government, fired the operator.
“We wish to apologize to all members of the Jewish community and to the victims and their families in Israel,” IPG chief Jac Vermeer said.
An unnamed call center spokesperson told Joods Actueel that the controversial conversation was an “isolated case.”
Two Jewish men wounded in the Brussels attacks landed Thursday in Israel and were transported immediately to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, one of Israel’s top hospitals with extensive experience treating terrorism victims. It’s unclear if these are the same two wounded victims about which the telephone inquiry had been made.
Israel’s Arutz Sheva reported that one of the men was wounded moderately while the condition of the second was described as moderate to serious. Both are in their 20s.
JTA reported that the call center was opened following the Brussels attacks claimed by the Islamic State group. It offers citizens information on the victims of the attack as well as personal safety tips.
Front page photo courtesy of Shutterstock.