Belgian Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx has accused her Israeli counterpart of “fundamentalist” attitudes for refusing to shake her hand.
Onkelinx met Israeli Deputy Health Minister Ya'akov Litzman at the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva Wednesday. Litzman, the leader of the haredi United Torah Judaism party, declined to shake Onkelinx’s hand because he doesn not touch members of the opposite sex.
“My hands are clean!” Onkelinx protested in a post on her Facebook page. “This is the second time a minister refuses to shake my hand because I am a woman. The first was Iranian. The second one was the Israeli health minister here in Geneva. This kind of fundamentalist attitude, connected to a certain perception of religion and women, profoundly troubles me.”
A source close to Litzman told Arutz Sheva 7 that the minister is used to such reactions. “Belgium has a large Hassidic community, and the ban on shaking a woman's hand is well known. The question is: why would this minister put Litzman in this position, when she knew very well what his reaction would be? Was he being set up for a provocation?”
“The minister’s childish reaction demonstrates her ignorance,” wrote Michael Freilich, editor in chief of Joods Actueel, Belgium’s largest Jewish publication. “Mr. Litzman’s refusal to shake Ms. Onkelinx’s hand had nothing to do with any view on women or impurity. Ultra-Orthodox women are also forbidden from touching members of the opposite sex. It’s the custom. A more seasoned politician would have been aware of this sensibility in advance.”
Onkelinx’s reaction follows the Belgian government decision to join Austria as the only two EU states to vote in favor of a UN-led investigation into West Bank settlement construction.