Belgium’s first female prime minister is Jewish
Wilmes, a mother of four from the Brussels region, replaced Charles Michel on Sunday in the top post. The centrist politician will head a caretaker government during negotiations on the formation of a coalition, which in Belgium has been known to take months.
Michel’s cabinet collapsed last year, and Wilmes replaced him when he left for a European Union position. Both are members of the centre-left MR (Reformist Movement) party.
Wilmes’ mother is Ashkenazi Jewish and lost several relatives in the Holocaust, Philippe Markiewicz, the president of the Consistoire organisation of Belgian Jewry, confirmed on Monday to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“She hid her Jewish identity, though it seems to be a private detail from her biography and not something connected to any policy-making aspect,” he said.
Wilmes’ father, Philippe, was a lecturer at the Catholic University of Louvain, and isn’t Jewish.
Markiewicz described Wilmes, who has attended Holocaust commemoration events and highlighted them on her personal website, as “an industrious and committed politician”.
A source from the Jewish community, a member of Wilmes’ party who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity, said that Judaism had only recently become “a more important factor than before” in Wilmes’ life.
Michael Freilich, a Belgian legislator for the NVA (New Flemish Alliance) party and the former editor in chief of the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel Jewish newspaper, said Wilmes’ appointment was an “historic event that makes me feel proud”.