- Verbal and violent anti-Semitism in the Netherlands is probably greater today than it has been during any other time in the last two centuries except the Nazi occupation.
Excessive Dutch tolerance has become an incentive for crime. Developments in anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are a good indicator of what is happening in Dutch society at large.
Due to the relatively high crime rate among the Dutch Moroccan community and international Arab anti-Semitic hate propaganda, Jews are above average targets for their racists’ behavior. Easily recognizable Jews often try to hide their identity in public.
- There are other reasons why the international image of the Dutch attitude toward the Jews should be corrected. The Dutch government has still not publicly acknowledged the major assistance of the Dutch bureaucracy in the preparatory stages of the murder of Dutch Jews by the Germans during the Holocaust. It also continues to misrepresent the post-war discrimination against the Jews in the Netherlands.
Anti-Semitic Songs in the Tramway
“You have to kill Jews, but it is forbidden.” At the beginning of May 2004, I entered Amsterdam tramway no. 24 from the front. In the back were four youngsters between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, chatting in fluent Dutch. They looked Middle Eastern or North African, and were most probably of Moroccan immigrant ancestry. They did not even notice me sit down.
After a few minutes, one of them began to sing. The words of one of the songs was this essay’s opening sentence, which rhymes in Dutch. No one reacted in the tram, which runs from an affluent neighborhood in Amsterdam South to the Central Station. The youngster continued to sing other songs. The “kill the Jews” song was apparently part of his repertoire. It was not specifically directed at me; I sat more than ten rows ahead of him and was not wearing a skullcap. If anything, he could only see my back.
When I spoke with some Dutch Jewish friends later, they said that there was nothing exceptional about this occurrence. One replied that in such cases she goes over and asks the singer: “Who taught you that?” She said that she is one of the few Dutch Jews who is so fed up with the Netherlands that she is preparing to leave for Israel. She also mentioned that some of her gentile neighbors say things like, “It is not very nice what you people are doing to the Palestinians,” thus holding her, as a Dutch Jew, responsible for Israel’s actions. Her ancestors have lived in the Netherlands for centuries.
Another friend responded that even if people would want to reprimand the youngster, they are afraid because he may pull out a knife. He added: “Today the kid only sings; imagine what he may do ten years from now.”
A Dutch rabbi told me that he is regularly insulted by young Moroccans and remarked: “But in France it is much worse.”
When I was invited to a Bar Mitzvah reception in one of Amsterdam’s major hotels, there were several guards around the hall. I asked whether this is common. The reply was: “No, only at Jewish receptions.”
Tolerance Stimulates Crime
Whoever visits the Netherlands is often impressed by the superficial helpfulness of many Dutch people. It is one of those countries where one is best served if one asks for the closest bus stop. Dutch tolerance, however, has long been an incentive for crime. Developments in anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are a good indicator of what is happening in society at large. “Make no mistake,” a Dutch Jewish journalist told me, “there is fear of the immigrant Muslims among the non-Jews as well.” The difference, though, is that non-Jews run a much smaller risk of being assaulted by incited hooligans of Moroccan ancestry.
The evidence of Dutch tolerance and what it leads to is not limited to case stories. A major life style study of Dutch youngsters was carried out in 2004, based on interviews with 35,000 youngsters in the second and fourth years of high school in two eastern Dutch provinces.
Forty-seven percent of those interviewed indicated that they had committed at least once in their lives a punishable crime such as threatening somebody with a gun, vandalism, harassment, or stealing. More than one out of ten youngsters interviewed carried a weapon last year. More than five percent was involved in severely violent crimes. In 2003, about one out of every three pupils was the victim of theft, harassment, and the destruction of belongings.1
A few years ago, a leading Dutch daily published an article based on government information, which stated that there was probably a substantial number of war criminals among the more than 25,000 Afghan refugees in the Netherlands. They included not only communist military personnel who had tortured others, but also members of the Hezb-i-Wahdat, a coalition of Shi’ite movements whose routine methods of torture – according to a report of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs – included skinning prisoners alive or forcing them to eat human flesh.
The ministry document also said: “A much-used method of torture included the fighters’ forcing somebody who had been arrested to kneel, bound, on the street, after which they struck nails into his head until he died.”2 At the time, no Afghan war criminal had ever been brought before a court in the Netherlands.
Burning the Israeli Flag and Holocaust Manipulation
Excessive Dutch tolerance manifests itself in many ways. After the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by Israel in March 2004, a number of pro-Palestinian organizations held a protest meeting in the Dam Central Square of Amsterdam where the national monument in memory of the Second World War stands. Among the organizers was the Arab European League (AEL), which promotes the destruction of Israel. During the meeting, the police watched passively while an Israeli flag was burned.3 When asked, a police spokesman said that it is permissible to burn a national flag as long as it does not endanger people or property.
Dutch mainstream politicians are quite willing to debate publicly with AEL leaders, something they would not do with Dutch neo-Nazis. Despite the overwhelming facts proving this, many Dutchmen – politicians and others – find it difficult to understand the idea that leaders and people in minority groups can be violent racists.
It is a mistake to think that the Dutch authorities have no policies at all concerning what is permitted against Jews and Israel. When a violent pro-Palestinian demonstration took place in Amsterdam in April 2002, the socialist mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen – who is Jewish – said that he had defined the limit for himself: he would not accept racist slogans. “We accept anti-Israel slogans, but not anti-Jewish ones. We also do not accept a banner equating a swastika to a Star of David. The swastika is so connected to racism that it crosses the line.”4
Among the many examples of how far Dutch tolerance will go, yet another – which was mainly directed against Jewish sentiments – involved the manipulation of the Holocaust on behalf of animals. An animal rights movement organized a demonstration, “Holocaust on Your Plate,” in the Leidse Plein, another major square in Amsterdam. On its panels and folders, the suffering of animals was illustrated with pictures of the Holocaust. The police initially took the panels and folders away, but they were soon returned upon the instructions of the prosecutor, who said that comparing animal suffering with that of Holocaust victims is not a criminal act in the Netherlands.5
Limits to Freedom of Expression
Freedom of expression in the Netherlands has its limits, however. Around Liberation Day at the beginning of May 2004, Goodbye Holland, a two-part documentary by the Dutch moviemaker Willy Lindwer, an Emmy Award winner, was shown on television. It dealt with the considerable Dutch collaboration with the Nazis during the war as well as with the discrimination against the returning Jews to the post-war, democratic Netherlands.
In the first part of the movie, Lindwer interviewed a retired policeman, Jan Mulder, who expressed support for his pro-Nazi boss during the war, the Dutch police chief of Groningen, Philip Blank. The latter was in charge of arresting the town’s 3,000 Jews, 90% of whom did not return from the extermination and other camps. After the Netherlands was liberated in 1945, Blank was condemned as a war criminal although later on his sentence was drastically shortened. The policeman’s wife entered into the conversation with Lindwer and said: “My mother said that if the war ends at 12 o’clock, a Jew will already cheat you at 5 past 12.”
The broadcasting company NCRV, which had given Lindwer the assignment, removed this scene – an act with which Lindwer disagreed – after the policeman’s son, Tieme Mulder, threatened to sue it.6 The broadcaster also decided to censure the second part in which one of the few surviving Groningen Jews, who was interviewed in the movie, mentioned that a local football club, Be Quick, did not admit Jews before the war. After the club president announced that he would sue the NCRV if it portrayed the club in a negative manner,7 the broadcaster eliminated Be Quick’s name from the movie.
In Israel, the documentary was shown uncensored on Holocaust Day. Lindwer told Israeli newspapers that the movie is also his farewell to the Netherlands because it has become an unpleasant country to live in for a conscious Jew.
A Visitor from Israel
On a Dutch Jewish website, Dani Evers, a visitor from Israel to the Netherlands, recently wrote: “There is something that disturbs me [in the Netherlands]. People tell me I have to disguise my identity. It is not advisable to walk here with a kippa. I have to hide my tsitsit, the religious fringes which usually come out of my clothes. The synagogue where I will pray is unlikely to have a nicely designed bulletin board outside with the name of the community where they announce the times of the service.”
Evers asked one of his friends why he is willing to live with this rather than come to Israel. He replied: “The tramway here has never been blown up with the victims dispersed over tens of meters.”
Evers writes that only later did he realize why he is uncomfortable in the Netherlands: “I cannot walk anymore without a straight back. I cannot accept having to hide my identity under a common looking cap and to disguise being Jewish. I do not want to hide behind a poker face when I want to be proud of what Israel has achieved. I do not want to hold discussions with people whose real intention is to wipe you off the map.”8
Among the Worst in Europe
The summary of a report on European anti-Semitism published by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) – which covered the first half of 2002 – mentioned: “France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK witnessed rather serious anti-Semitic incidents such as numerous physical attacks and insults directed against Jews and the vandalism of Jewish institutions (synagogues, shops, cemeteries).” The Netherlands, reputed in the past to be a country where anti-Semitism was a relatively minor phenomenon, thus found itself included among Europe’s leaders in this type of racism.9
This finding by a leading European research institute is not an isolated one. In November 2003, the European Union published one of its Eurobarometer polls. It asked which countries the Europeans saw as a danger to world peace. Fifty-nine percent of Europeans considered Israel to be such a country. This was the highest percentage with respect to any country, including states such as Iran that are major supporters of terrorism.10
With 74%, the Netherlands had the highest percentage of respondents who considered Israel a danger to world peace. The next in line was Austria, whichuring the Holocaust participated more zealously in Nazi activity than Hitler’s Germany – if that is possible.
The Anxieties of Dutch Jews
A few days before the Eurobarometer results came out, a Dutch daily, De Volkskrant, published an article about the anxieties of today’s Dutch Jewish leaders. Several of them not only spoke about anti-Semitism in the Netherlands, but also related their personal experiences. They told of the verbal insults they are subjected to on Dutch streets when wearing a skullcap.
Ruben Vis, secretary of the NIK, the umbrella organization of the Dutch Ashkenazi community, said that he is regularly insulted when wearing a kippa in public. Sometimes he is pushed in the tramway. He now never wears his kippa in the western and eastern quarters of Amsterdam, and rarely in the center of the city places where there are many Dutchmen of Moroccan descent.
Youth rabbi Menachem Sebbag relates how a Dutch youngster of Moroccan descent approached his wife with a screwdriver and said, “I’ll cut your heart out.” Sebbag – who has a Moroccan father – understands the Arabic words with which he is insulted, such as: “I’m going to slaughter you like a pig.” Sometimes they shout at him: “Sharon supporter, murderer.” He now goes out as little as possible and says, “Since I stopped going anywhere, I have less problems.” Once he had a Coca Cola can thrown at his head. The Dutch papers usually mention that the perpetrators of these crimes are of Moroccan descent.11
Another newspaper article quotes Gideon van der Sluis, the young cantor of a synagogue in the Amsterdam de Pijp neighborhood. He tells the interviewer that when he wears a white kippa on Shabbat, every time he passes a pizzeria where Moroccan youngsters gather, the group curses him saying, “Yahud, yahud, Dirty cancer Jew.”
Van der Sluis says that this “is a major problem and is becoming worse. Five years ago, if you heard one such remark a year it was a lot. Now it happens every week. There are parts of town such as the Indische Buurt, the Transvaalbuurt, and the West where Jews can no longer walk with a kippa.” Itai Gross, another youngster who was interviewed, says: “Until now, it has been limited to cursing, spitting, and hitting.” Referring to the murderous anti-Semitic attacks in Istanbul, he adds: “A Jew will also be killed here sooner or later.”12
On 4 May 2003 – the national Memorial Day for the victims of the Second World War – several commemorative ceremonies were disturbed. In one area in Amsterdam, de Baarsjes, youngsters shouted, “Jews have to be killed,” about twenty times during the two minutes of silence in memory of the dead. The perpetrators were young Dutchmen of Moroccan descent. In another part of town, Slotervaart, youngsters played football with the memorial wreaths.13
Are All Dutch Equal?
It is difficult to assess what plays in the conscious and subconscious minds of the journalists who mention the origins of those who assault Jews. Are they trying to suggest that one does not find such behavior among the Dutch whose parents or grandparents are not Moroccan?
Does the mention of the attackers’ Moroccan descent imply in media code that one cannot hold Dutch society responsible for the anti-Semitic attacks because these youngsters do not “really” belong to Dutch society as it sees itself, despite their Dutch passports? Or does it mean that everyone may have equal rights and duties in the Dutch egalitarian society, but the fact is that some of those of Moroccan ancestry cannot be expected to behave in a civilized way?
The reports might even imply that these Moroccan descendants are too difficult for the Dutch police and justice authorities to handle. Hence, not much should be expected from the Dutch national and local governments when a disproportionate number of Moroccan youngsters – compared to average Dutchmen – attack other Dutch citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are recognizable as Jews.
The answers to these questions will gradually be revealed in the coming years. They lead to other unpleasant questions. If the Dutch authorities, who are responsible for enforcing the law and enabling the country’s Jews to live with no more threats than the average Dutchman, consider Jews who are recognizable as such to be somehow “less equal” in the egalitarian Netherlands, would it mean that Dutch society, de facto, concedes that the Jews have to live in this way as “they always did” in Europe’s anti-Semitic societies?
Never before in Dutch Democracy
The latter, however, is not necessarily true. To this author’s best knowledge, the high frequency of these incidents is a first time occurrence in the history of the Netherlands as a democratic state (i.e., while not under the 1940-1945 German occupation). There were probably relatively fewer incidents per Jew before the Second World War when the Jewish community numbered 140,000 and hundreds of thousands of Dutchmen supported the Dutch National Socialist Party in the elections. In other words, there are substantial indications that verbal and violent anti-Semitism in the Netherlands is greater today than it has ever been in the last two centuries, other than during the Nazi occupation.
There is also what is today considered by some to be “good news.” The attacks against the Jews in the Netherlands are indeed not as bad as in France. With one exception, no Dutch synagogues have been burned since the Second World War. However, stones have been thrown through synagogue windows, synagogue walls have been marked with graffiti, and Jewish cemeteries have been occasionally desecrated. As far as the latter is concerned, the perpetrators are usually extreme rightists.14
Does this mean that the Netherlands is an anti-Semitic country? Not necessarily. Summing up a series of facts usually does not give a complete picture of a country. Many enemies of Israel in the foreign media discovered this long ago by continuously providing their audiences with selected negative pictures and facts – as several correspondents of Dutch media currently in Israel do regularly. Nevertheless, the above elements do give some indications about a reality in the Netherlands that is very different from how the country is presented in the international press.
A More Classic Approach
To provide another perspective on Dutch anti-Semitism, one can also take a more classic approach toward describing it. There is a broad range of anti-Semitic activities in the country of which only a small part is reported in the media. They manifest themselves as Muslim, extreme left and right wing, and Christian anti-Semitism.
The next question to be addressed is how the level of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands compares to that of other countries. In October 2002, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a survey on European attitudes toward Jews in five countries: Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands.15 In June of that year, it did the same for France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium.16 In the survey, eleven questions were posed to the people sampled. Those who agreed with six or more of the statements listed were considered the “most anti-Semitic.”
According to the survey, 7% of the Dutch population harbors strong anti-Semitic views. That is considered good news these days since 34% of the Spanish population came into this category, as did 23% of the Italians, 22% of the Swiss, and 19% of the Austrians.
Eighteen percent of the Dutch population believe Jews have too much power in international financial markets, 15% responded that Jews do not care what happens to anyone other than their own kind, 35% thought Jews stick together more than other Dutchmen, and 48% believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country.17
The last prejudice is the most absurd because most Jews in the Netherlands are so assimilated that many of them are often unrecognizable even by other Jews. Only 8,000 Jews in the Netherlands belong to any Jewish organization, out of an estimated 40,000 who can perhaps be considered Jewish. Nobody knows what the majority of Dutch Jews think about current affairs.
The ADL updated its ten-country survey in early 2004 and found a general decrease in anti-Semitic attitudes. Only the United Kingdom and the Netherlands showed an increase in anti-Semitism compared to two years earlier; it reached 9% in the latter. The figure of those Dutch who considered that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country had declined from 48% to 44%.18
Figleaf: Anne Frank
One cannot discuss the Jews’ present situation in the Netherlands without referring to what happened in the past. There is a widespread myth that there was no anti-Semitism in the Netherlands before the war. While this is largely true for extreme, violent anti-Semitism, many other less aggressive forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination existed. Social anti-Semitism was substantial, but details have not been adequately researched.
During the Second World War, 74% of the 140,000 Dutch Jews were murdered, a higher percentage than in any other Western European country. Due to the Anne Frank paradigm, the myth of the good Dutchman has persevered in giving the impression that large parts of the Dutch population resisted the Nazis and helped the Jews. Much attention is given to the remarkable Dutchmen who hid her and none to those who betrayed and arrested her.
The truth about Dutch collaboration with the Nazis is very different from what is commonly known outside the country. The Dutch authorities sent the Jews on their first steps to their extermination on German orders; the Germans required very few of their own people for this. Dutch policemen arrested the Jews. The policemen were well aware of the criminal character of their acts; it is the role of the police to arrest suspected criminals, not innocent citizens or babies.
Government Denial of the Truth about the War
Dutch railway employees transported the Jews to the transit camps. Dutch policemen guarded them there. There was a small minority of Dutchmen who helped hide the Jews and they deserve great respect. The numbers of Dutch Nazi collaborators during the war, however, exceeded those active in the resistance. Relative to the size of its population, the Netherlands had the most Waffen SS volunteers in Western Europe.19 Furthermore, out of the 24,000 Jews who were hidden, 8,000 were betrayed by Dutchmen for a reward which in today’s money amounts to perhaps 30 Euro per victim. Almost all of them were murdered in the death camps.20
The Dutch government-in-exile in London cared little about the fate of the Jews who were deported to Poland.21 It did not instruct the Dutch under occupation not to collaborate with the Nazis. After the war, the Dutch transport minister praised the Dutch railways for not striking when they transported the Jews because that would have been bad for the Dutch economy.22 In more than four years of radio speeches from London, the Dutch queen, Wilhelmina, devoted a total of five sentences to the Dutch Jews and their fate.23
Recent Dutch governments still deny, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the Netherlands has any responsibility for the fate of the Dutch Jews during the war. Gerrit Zalm, the deputy prime minister and leader of the VVD Liberal party, was finance minister when an official in his department wrote in his name to a Holocaust survivor: “In regard to the fate of the Dutch Jews during the Holocaust, the Dutch Government is of the firm belief that it has not forsaken its civic duties toward its Jewish citizens.”24
After the war, the surviving Jews were discriminated against in many ways by successive Dutch democratic governments.25 Though substantial evidence exists to the contrary, the Dutch government denies until today that many cases of this discrimination were intentional.26
Anti-Semitism in the Netherlands: 2001
It is relatively easy to obtain a broad overview of the major manifestations of classical anti-Semitism in the Netherlands today. The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) has a detailed website describing current events of classical anti-Semitism in the Netherlands.27 Its main findings for 2001 and 2002 are summarized here.
In 2001, there were four cases of violence against Jews on their way to Amsterdam synagogues; threats at knife point, stone throwing, etc. Easily recognizable Jews or Jewish officials such as the CIDI director Ronny Naftaniel were menaced. There were also bomb threats against Jewish institutions.
Verbal violence manifests itself in many ways. A rabbi visiting prisoners has been shouted at in various prisons: “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” This is a particularly common cry at football games, but it also happens in other places such as public transport. Dutch supporters are the main culprits on the football fields. Elsewhere, this cry is typical of youngsters of Moroccan descent or skinheads.
Swastikas on houses and insults at school or the workplace were also reported to CIDI. “They forgot to gas you” is a recurring expression. CIDI is a target of email and fax threats. It is difficult to quantify the number of incidents because probably only some are reported. The number of anti-Semitic incidents that CIDI knew about was approximately 200 in 2001, which is about the same as in 2000. It increased to 337 in 2002.
In 2001, windows of the guard’s house at one of the Jewish cemeteries near Amsterdam were smashed on two occasions. Several Jewish cemeteries were also desecrated. At Oosterhout, seventy graves were vandalized with swastikas, runic letters and signs such as “Juden raus” (Away with the Jews) and “Wir sind zurück” (We are back).
The perpetrators – who belonged to an extreme right-wing organization were caught and sentenced to less than one month in prison. The Jewish community expressed its disappointment with the lenient punishment. Later in the year, swastikas were found on tombstones in the Zaltbommel Jewish cemetery. Several Jewish institutions and war monuments have been defiled with swastikas or vandalized.
In the Netherlands, Muslims traditionally demonstrate against the United States and Israel on the last day of Ramadan with a march instituted by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. A few neo-Nazis occasionally join the demonstration.
2002: More of the Same
There was more of the same in 2002, and only a few selected examples of the anti-Semitic acts mentioned on the CIDI website can be related here. In April, a Jewish girl went to get her brother at a non-Jewish school. She asked his classmates about his whereabouts and one of the children replied, “In the gas chamber.” The school principal told the Jewish child’s mother that she thought it was terrible, but that she could not do anything about it.
Violence increased in 2002. In the youth football competition, an Orthodox Jewish team playing against a team of young Dutchmen of Moroccan origin was beaten up. One Jewish boy had a brain concussion, another’s ankle was damaged. Moroccans pursued the Jews into the locker room. Several bystanders made the Hitler salute.
In January 2002, eighty extreme rightists marched in Rotterdam, shouting, “Honor to the Waffen SS.” The mayor of Rotterdam forbade the demonstration, but the extremists appealed to the judge who decided that the Dutch constitution permits the freedom to demonstrate. A year earlier, a judge in Maastricht rendered a similar decision. There were more desecrations of war monuments. Many incidents can be described as classic anti-Semitism and do not contain any specific anti-Israeli i.e., neo-anti-Semitic elements. Others do.
One peak of Dutch anti-Semitism occurred at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Amsterdam in April 2002 in which a Jew was beaten up and others were insulted. There are, indeed, many cases of anti-Semitism; far more than the Netherlands has experienced for decades. The ADL study also proves that anti-Semitism is an integral – albeit not dominant – element of Dutch society.
Even more important than describing the current Dutch reality is assessing the key factors which may influence the development of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands and evaluating what can be done about them. One major conclusion is that there is a connection between classical anti-Semitism that targets Jewish individuals and the new anti-Semitism that focuses on Israel.
One cannot assess what the future may bring without reflecting on Dutch society and its values. Over the last few decades, Protestant Christianity – for a long time the dominant religion – has lost much of its influence on Dutch society. About half of the Dutch declare that they have no religion. This raises the basic question: what are Dutch values? This is a question brought up from time to time by the Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, a Christian Democrat. In a broader sense, this question is also valid for Europe. It remains unclear what the Dutch people have in common. The Dutch are more a pragmatic than an intellectual nation.
The issue of national values emerged after the Dutch government changed in 2002. Its catalyst was the murder in the spring of Pim Fortuyn, the leader of the new LPF right-wing populist party, shortly before the national elections. His murderer belonged to an extreme animal rights movement.
In a society devoid of classic values, new values are rarely more than skin deep. Majority opinions can shift rapidly. 9/11 proved this. Suddenly a poll found that a majority in the Netherlands is willing to expel trouble-making Muslims, even if they hold Dutch nationality.
Many among the Dutch left believe in a vague form of multi-culturalism. They think Dutch society should connect to some extent to the specificity of residents of non-European origin – who are commonly called allochtones in the Netherlands – creating a place in society for their values without assimilating them. This position is not very tenable when it concerns values such as blood revenge and female circumcision. Today, however, the word multi-culturalism does not elicit particularly positive connotations even on the part of Labor, the main left-wing party.
Large numbers of Muslims do not identify with Dutch history. In some schools with many allochtones, the so-called black schools, teaching the Shoah had to be abandoned because teachers were intimidated by Muslim pupils.
The other important view in the Netherlands is that Muslims will have to adapt more to Dutch society. Those who believe this hope they will ultimately be better integrated. They proclaim that Dutch society must find ways of integrating the Muslims without knowing how this should be done.
Many believe a core of Muslims – or more explicitly, Dutchmen of Moroccan origin – will never be integrated. They prefer not to contemplate in too much detail what that might mean for Dutch society.
Future Threats to Dutch Jews
One can only speculate on the future of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands. While Dutch right-wing anti-Semitism is extremely unpleasant, it is unlikely to become a major danger to the Dutch Jewish community. Its violent form is limited to miniscule fringes of Dutch society. There are no elected officials in the Netherlands – even locally – who support them or approve of their violence. However, if the general situation of overall insecurity in the Netherlands remains what it is, rightist extremists may cause some problems.
The future of Muslim anti-Semitism in the Netherlands is less clear. Three important factors may influence its development. The first is the globalization of genocidal anti-Semitism, hate, and calls for violence against Jews. These originate in the Arab world and are spread by their media. Osama Bin Laden has shown that in post-modern society, one does not need many fanatics to inflict major casualties far from home.
The latent potential for violent anti-Semitism in Dutch-Muslim society is there. If the Nazi-inspired anti-Semitic hate campaigns in the Arab world continue, there is no reason to believe that all Muslims in the Netherlands will be immune to this totalitarian and racist incitement. As the initiators of this hate propaganda are outside the Netherlands, the Dutch authorities cannot control this on-going incitement.
The second factor likely to influence the future of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands is Middle Eastern events, as broadcast by Dutch and Arab TV-stations. Less media attention to the conflict in the Middle East, for whatever reason, might weaken Muslim anti-Semitic attacks.
Security and Justice
The third important factor concerns the internal situation in Dutch society. For all practical purposes, the Netherlands cannot be defined as a state where justice reigns. The percentage of prosecuted crimes is low. At the same time, the relative crime rate among the allochtones in the Netherlands is disproportionately high vis-à-vis the population at large. This is not only true for Muslims, but also for people whose parents came from the former Dutch colonies in Latin America.
Forecasts are by nature speculative. One can develop horror scenarios, saying that there are potentially enough Muslim fanatics and/or hooligans in the Netherlands to cause the local Jews major problems in the future. On the other hand, one can assume that if the Netherlands becomes a generally more secure country as a reaction to the murderous Islamist threats against the West, the extremists in the Moroccan community will be watched more closely and criminal elements will be punished more severely. This will diminish future threats to law-abiding Dutchmen and, in an above average way, to the Dutch Jewish community.
From Anne Frank to Gretta
Another subject requiring analysis is the new anti-Semitism. Discriminatory attitudes toward Israel exist on various levels in the Netherlands. Media reporting from Israel is often biased. Although CIDI fights this distorted reporting, its activities in this field are less effective than those concerning anti-Semitism.
Discriminatory attitudes toward Israel are popular in Dutch left-of-center circles. They are supported by a small but noisy and well-financed group of anti-Israeli Jewish extremists who are organized in a group called “Another Jewish Voice.”
Dutch anti-Israel activism has become internationally notorious thanks to a person who is not known for any merit of her own. Gretta Duisenberg is publicly recognized only because she is the wife of the former president of the European Central Bank, Wim Duisenberg, who does not distance himself from his wife’s remarks.
In 2001, Mrs. Duisenberg organized a boycott campaign against Israel. When asked on Dutch television how many signatures she had, she said 6,000. When asked, afterwards, how many she wanted to collect, she replied “6 million” – an obvious reference to the Holocaust. A Dutch Jewish lawyer took her to court without much success. On 9 November 2003, she participated in a demonstration in the Leidse Plein in Amsterdam, where an Israeli type of checkpoint for Palestinians was set up. Only the presence of Palestinian suicide mass murderers would have made it realistic.28
In January 2003, following suicide attacks in Tel Aviv where more than twenty Israeli civilians were killed and more than 100 wounded, Gretta Duisenberg said that the attacks showed that the spiral of violence has to be broken, which would happen if Sharon ends his aggression. 29
What to Do?
Can one do anything about the Dutch anti-Israel bias? A friend of this author – an Israeli woman of Dutch origin – used to buy her clothes from a Dutch designer. She asked his employees whether it was true that he had signed the appeal to boycott Israel. They let her speak to him on the phone. When he confirmed it, she immediately left his shop. Afterwards, the designer faxed the anti-Israel manifesto he had signed to her hotel.
On her return to Israel, she faxed him a reply that included the following lines: “An anti-Semite is someone who applies double standards against Jews or Israel. Nothing has been heard from the signatories of the Duisenberg proclamation when hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in an atrocious way in Rwanda following the United Nations decision in 1994 to partially withdraw.”
Her fax continued: “If I do you injustice, will you please send me all the petitions which you signed then against the United Nations. It is certainly known to you that the United Nations afterwards admitted their extensive failure.”
She sent this fax at the end of 2001 and did not receive a reply. This indicates that one reason why anti-Israel attacks are so freely initiated by various people is because nobody takes them systematically to task.
Political discrimination against Israel is common, particularly by Dutch so-called progressive politicians. One example is the former leader of the Dutch Labor party (PvdA), Ad Melkert, who led his party to one of its greatest defeats in the May 2002 general elections. He proposed in a TV discussion in April 2002, during Operation Defensive Shield in Israel, that all members of the European Union recall their ambassadors from Israel.
When this was unsuccessful, he proposed in the Lower Chamber of the Dutch Parliament to recall the Dutch ambassador from Tel Aviv. The motion fell one vote short of a majority and was therefore rejected. It was supported by the Labor party and other left-of-center parties.
Dutch left-wing politicians could have proposed recalling Dutch ambassadors from many other states, had they compared the behavior of those states with that of Israel. The parties which supported Melkert never proposed such a motion. Their attitude reflects profound anti-Israeli bias. Since then, the coalition members in the Iraq War have frequently shown much less concern for Iraqi civilians than Israel does for Palestinian civilians. They have also killed many more than Israel ever did. However, the Dutch Labor party has not proposed recalling any Dutch ambassadors.
For decades, a standard answer of many accused of classic anti-Semitism was: “Some of my best friends are Jewish.” New anti-Semites have developed another version of this motif. When one reproaches them for applying double standards to Israel as compared to other countries, their answer is frequently: “From our friends we expect more than from others.”
The widespread hypocrisy among the Dutch political left is even more extreme. Its attitude could be summarized as: “From our friends we expect much more than from ourselves.” One can prove this by analyzing how the Dutch themselves fall short of the behavior a significant number of them wish to impose on Israel. It would have been easy to illustrate this statement by quoting examples of Dutch behavior during the German occupation and the collaboration of the Dutch authorities with the Germans in bringing the Jews to their death.
The same can also be proven, however, from a more recent case that can be considered the paradigm for European hypocrisy against Israel. It concerns not only the Netherlands, but also the amorphous body of the United Nations, the French, and some individuals from other countries.
In 1993, the Dutch government decided to participate in a UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia. On 16 April of that year, the Security Council declared that the town of Srebrenica was a safe area for the Bosnians. The Canadian government announced that its soldiers there had to be relieved. Several countries were asked to replace them, but all refused.30
An Assignment “Full of Honor”
In December 1993, Dutch generals told the minister of defense that stationing a Dutch battalion in Srebrenica was an assignment “full of honor. It was not simple, but doable.”31 So a Dutch contingent was sent to Srebrenica.
On 11 July 1995, the Bosnian Serb army conquered the Srebrenica enclave. The Dutch battalion (Dutchbat) of UNPROFOR (the United Nations Protection Force), the only UN soldiers in the town, fled the Srebrenica area for Zagreb. After the Dutch left, 6,000-8,000 Bosnians were murdered, making it the largest slaughter of civilians in Europe since the Holocaust. The inhabitants of Srebrenica had thought they were safe because of the United Nations’ declarations and the presence of Dutch soldiers.
Only many years afterwards was it revealed that there was never a proper Dutch government discussion and decision to send the Dutch troops to Srebrenica and that the Dutch troops did not properly debrief their Canadian predecessors upon arrival. Only seven years after the event did the Dutch minister of defense explicitly admit that he knew the town was indefensible well before the mass murders took place.
Five years after the massacre, Dutch army voices rather suddenly began publicly saying that Srebrenica was a “mission impossible” from the start.32 There was no more talk “that it was full of honor.” Only in 2002, seven years after the massacre, was a parliamentary enquiry committee in the Netherlands finally appointed. As stated above, the Dutch left-wing politicians do not expect from their own country what they demand from Israel. One should recall that the Israeli Kahan committee reached its conclusions on the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christians in February 1983, less than five months after the event.
The parliamentary ad hoc committee in the Netherlands on the Srebrenica affair, the Bakker Commission, did its work only five years after the event. The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, (NIOD) charged with a detailed investigation, studied the event for about five years and published its findings in 2001. The way the Dutch carried out their inquiry on Srebrenica compares poorly to the Israeli inquiry on Sabra and Shatilla.
Incompetence, Irresponsibility, and Negligence
In recent years in the West, there has seldom been such a murderous chain reaction of incompetence, irresponsibility, and negligence as that of the various Western actors in the Srebrenica affair. The behavior of the Dutch was one among several substantial factors which facilitated the mass murder although the Dutch claim that the major responsibility resides with the United Nations – an ideal body to assume responsibility because there it can evaporate globally.
The Dutch failure in the Srebrenica disaster should be attributed to whole layers of Dutch society, not just to the government. Parliament only began asking questions three weeks after the massacre. It emerged many years later that the Dutch minister of defense was not properly briefed by his army commanders. It took the Dutch longer to appoint the NIOD to carry out a study on Srebrenica than it took the Israeli Kahan commission to complete the Sabra and Shatilla enquiry.
The Dutch press had incited the Dutch government to send troops to Bosnia without investigating the possible consequences. The first time Dutch intellectuals reacted in an organized way to the tragedy was on the fifth anniversary of the massacre. The NIOD study, which took five years to complete, claimed that the Dutch government in those fateful days of June 1995 could not have known that the Bosnian Muslims were at risk. Two ministers have since said that this conclusion, reached after so many years of study, was incorrect. Former minister Jan Pronk of the Labor party declared before the parliamentary inquiry commission in 2002: “We all knew that the Serbs considered all boys and men above fifteen years as soldiers and might murder them.”33
Feasting on Beer and Music
The Dutch soldiers escaped from Srebrenica to save their own skins. Afterwards, when the first news of the mass murder was already known, they feasted on beer and music in Zagreb. The Dutch prime minister, the crown prince, and the defense minister traveled there and participated in the festivities. Dutch historian Henri Beunders wrote a year later: “While the Bosnians were standing up to their knees in blood, the Dutch soldiers in Zagreb were standing up to their ankles in beer, being applauded by Crown Prince Willem Alexander, Prime Minister Kok and Minister Voorhoeve.”34
Only several years after the massacre did it become known that among the Dutch soldiers were racist radicals who had made the Nazi salute while wearing UN uniforms in Srebrenica. One soldier took pictures which showed indications of the murders taking place; the film was ruined when the army laboratory developed it. The Dutch authorities denied that this was done intentionally.
At first sight, it may not be apparent that the Srebrenica case is related to the anti-Israeli attitude among parts of the Dutch population. Nevertheless, in order to understand the “new anti-Semitism” against the State of Israel in Europe, the Srebrenica case provides an extraordinary paradigm. The major layers of Dutch society – including the government, parliament, army, media and intellectuals – have systematically and in a prolonged manner failed to deal with this issue. Dutch criticism of this dramatic failure of the Netherlands was much milder than the frequent Dutch criticism of Israel.
While Dutch governments seem to have major problems confronting matters with deadly consequences for which they are responsible, this does not prevent them from regularly criticizing the Israeli government about its behavior in infinitely more difficult circumstances. Earlier this year, the Dutch foreign minister, Bernard Bot, again selectively criticized Israel on the occasions of the killings of the Hamas leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
A Changing Image
The Netherlands has enjoyed a positive image in world Jewish opinion for many decades. This began to change in recent years. One reason for this is that it is gradually becoming known that major underlying “facts” concerning the Dutch role in the Second World War – which contributed to this image – were false. The myth of the good Dutch is slowly being dismantled. In Israel, the screening of Lindwer’s Goodbye Holland has contributed to this.
The second reason for the changing world opinion is that the Netherlands has become integrated into the European Union where French prominence has been a major force behind an anti-Israeli policy. The very negative Dutch opinion of Israel has been confirmed by the recent Euro-barometer poll. The third reason is that news about the anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands is slowly reaching the international Jewish community.
There is a fourth reason why the image of the Netherlands in Jewish eyes should be corrected. The Dutch government has still not publicly acknowledged the role of the Dutch authorities in the preparatory stages of the murder of Dutch Jews by the Germans. Nor has it apologized for the almost total lack of interest in the fate of Dutch Jews by the Dutch government-in-exile in London during the Second World War. It also continues to misrepresent the intentional post-war discrimination against the Jews in the Netherlands by the Dutch authorities.
In conclusion, whoever speaks today about European anti-Semitism cannot analyze just its standard elements. European anti-Semitism and European hypocrisy about Israel are so closely interwoven they have become inseparable. They are indeed Siamese twins. Analyzing anti-Semitism in the Netherlands without analyzing Dutch hypocrisy gives a distorted picture. Attitudes toward Jews and Israel in the Netherlands are such that a much more detailed analysis is justified.
Based on a lecture at the Institute for Research on Dutch Jewry at the Hebrew University on 26 November 2003.
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1. ANP, “Helft jongeren Oost-Nederland pleegt strafbaar feit,” de Volkskrant, 6 May 2004 [Dutch].
2. As quoted in de Volkskrant, 9 October 2001 [Dutch].
3. Hans Moll, “Politie kijkt toe bij vlagverbranding,” NRC Handelsblad, 29 March 2004 [Dutch].
4. Jan’t Hart, “Cohen: ‘Kanker-Utrecht is ook te ver,'” de Volkskrant, 23 April 2002.
5. Emily Gordts, “Holocaust-actie beledigend,” Trouw, 9 April 2004 [Dutch].
6. Wouter Smilde, “Documentairemaker versus opdrachtgever,” Trouw, 4 May 2004 [Dutch].
7. Dagblad van het Noorden, 3 May 2004 [Dutch].
8. Dani Evers, “Een paar dagen op bezoek in mijn geboorteland wat voel ik daarbij,” www.joods.nl, 13 May 2004 [Dutch].
9. Werner Bergman and Juliane Wetzel, “Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the European Union: First Semester 2002 Synthesis Report on behalf of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia,” Center for Research on Antisemitism, Technical University Berlin, March 2003.
10. European Commission, “Iraq and Peace in the World,” Eurobarometer Survey, No. 151, November 2003.
11. Steffie Kouters, “Joden voelen zich ontheemd in hun eigen Mokum,” de Volkskrant, 1 November 2003 [Dutch].
12. Paul Andersson Toussaint, “Nieuw taboe: ‘jodenvriendje zijn,'” De Groene Amsterdammer, 31 January 2004 [Dutch].
13. “Allochtonen verstoren herdenking vierde mei,” Het Parool, 8 May 2003 [Dutch].
15. ADL, “European Attitudes Toward Jews: A Five Country Survey,” October 2002.
16. ADL, “European Attitudes Toward Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israel Conflict,” 27 June 2002.
17. ADL, “European Attitudes Toward Jews: A Five Country Survey,” October 2002.
18. ADL Press Release, “ADL Survey Finds Some Decrease in Anti-Semitic Attitudes in Ten European Countries,” 26 April 2004.
19. Sytze Van der Zee, Voor Fuehrer, Volk en Vaderland: De SS in Nederland, (Alphen a/d Rijn: Sythoff, 1997), pp. 56-7 [Dutch].
20. Ad van Liempt, Kopgeld: Nederlandse premiejagers op zoek near joden (Amsterdam: Balans, 2002) [Dutch].
21. Dienke Hondius, “A Cold Reception: Holocaust Survivors in the Netherlands and their Return,” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 28, no. 1 (London: Sage Publications, 1994).
22. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Isaac Lipschits, Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (Jerusalem: JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003), p. 185.
23. Nanda Van der Zee, Om Erger Te Voorkomen, (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1997), p. 194 [Dutch].
24. Letter of Mr. A.W.B.M. Hendriks, the director of Legislation, Government, and Judicial Affairs, on behalf of the minister of finance, to Prof. E. Landsberg, 29 September 1999 [Dutch]. Private communication.
25. Isaac Lipschits, De Kleine Sjoa: Joden in Naoorlogs Nederland, (Amsterdam: Mets & Schilt, 2001) [Dutch].
26. Government of the Netherlands. Regeringsreactie naar aanleiding van de rapporten Tegoeden Tweede Wereldoorlog, 21 March 2000 [Dutch].
28. Rob Rombouts, “Protesten tegen Israëls Palestijnse Muur,” Het Parool, 10 November 2003 [Dutch].
29. ANP, “VVD noemt reactie Gretta Duisenberg eenzijdig en walgelijk,” de Volkskrant, 6 January 2003 [Dutch].
30. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Srebrenica: The Dutch Sabra and Shatilla,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 458, 15 July 2001.
31. Bakker Commission Report, 2000, p. 146 [Dutch].
32. NRC Handelsblad, 31 May 2000 [Dutch].
33. NRC Handelsblad, 21 November 2002 [Dutch].
34. NRC Handelsblad, 13 July 1996 [Dutch].
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Manfred Gerstenfeld is chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The latest of his seven books is Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (Jerusalem: JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003). His next book, which he co-edited with Shmuel Trigano, will appear later this year: The New Clothing of European Anti-Semitism (Editions Café Noir) [In French].