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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Muslim-Jewish Interaction in the Netherlands

Filed under: Antisemitism, Europe and Israel, Israel, Palestinians, Radical Islam, World Jewry

No. 26,

  • The immigration of a large number of Muslims into the Netherlands over the past four decades has led to major challenges for the Dutch Jewish community. These include, for instance, increased verbal and physical violence against Jews and the Jewish community, the need for greater security measures, impacts on the teaching of the Holocaust in Dutch schools, and changed attitudes of the authorities and third parties toward needs of the Jewish community.
  • This immigration has furthermore brought many additional anti-Semites and extreme opponents of Israel to the Netherlands. The desire to please these voters has also affected the attitude toward Israel of some Dutch politicians and political parties. The many negative developments have led some of the Jewish community leaders to reflect on how to interact with certain segments of the Muslim community.
  • In the first years of the new century Jews were among the main targets of Muslim violence. This did not inspire much interest in Dutch society at large. The November 2004 murder of media-maker Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim was a turning point. The poor integration of part of the Dutch Muslim community is now a prime subject of Dutch political discourse, and dislike of Islam is widespread in the society.
  • The extensive anti-Semitism among Muslim immigrants and their progeny is understated by some of the Jewish representatives, who seek dialogue with Muslims. Jewish leaders often remain silent about the erroneous concept that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are equivalent. An uncritical Jewish identification with all problems of the Muslim community would be a major strategic error. If Dutch Jewry pursues such an approach, it risks getting caught in the middle if ethnic tensions further increase in the Netherlands.

The immigration of a large number of Muslims into the Netherlands over the past four decades has led to major challenges for the Dutch Jewish community. These include, for instance, increased verbal and physical violence against Jews and the Jewish community, the need for greater security measures, impacts on the teaching of the Holocaust in Dutch schools, and changed attitudes of the authorities and third parties toward needs of the Jewish community.

This immigration has furthermore brought many additional anti-Semites and extreme opponents of Israel to the Netherlands. The desire to please these voters has also affected the attitude toward Israel of some Dutch politicians and political parties. The many negative developments have led some of the Jewish community leaders to reflect on how to interact with certain segments of the Muslim community.

Some of the issues concerning the Muslim immigration indirectly affect the Jewish community. An important one is how Dutch society views Muslims. Dutch politicians have failed to analyze the negative mindset of segments of the Muslim community toward Jews. Had they done so they would have understood much earlier some of Dutch society’s major current problems. Thus, once again the Jewish community was an ignored indicator for society at large.

Another aspect of the debate concerning the Dutch Muslim immigrants and their progeny is that the history of Jewish integration into Dutch society is often used as a tool to assess, forecast, or model how Muslims can integrate or assimilate into Dutch society.

Specific Dutch Aspects

Many of these issues exist as well in other European countries with a substantial Muslim immigrant population. Yet there are also specific aspects of the Muslim challenges to the Jewish community and society at large in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the model of analysis hereinafter can-with some modifications-be usefully applied in other European countries as well.

In 1970 there were an estimated sixty thousand Muslims in the Netherlands. Nowadays Muslims account for approximately 1 million of the 1.6 million non-Western immigrants and their progeny in the Netherlands. Among Muslims, 350,000 are from Turkey and 300,000 from Morocco. The main Muslim population in the Netherlands thus comes from countries where anti-Semitic prejudices are widespread.[1]

In past centuries the second and third generations of immigrants usually integrated much better than the first. For substantial parts of the Muslim immigration the opposite is the case. This problem had largely been ignored until the cruel murder of the Dutch media-maker Theo van Gogh by the Dutch-born radical Muslim of Moroccan origin Mohammed Bouyeri on 1 November 2004.

The murderer implanted a knife with a threatening letter in the victim’s body. Well-known Dutch intellectual Paul Scheffer characterized it as “one long anti-Semitic tirade in which Judaism was seen as a substitute for all that is wrong in the world and more specifically in Dutch society.”[2]

Religion in Decline

Religion in the Netherlands is in decline with about half the population defining itself as secular. Some Jewish leaders, such as Rabbi Raph Evers, head of the Dutch Jewish Seminary, consider that the coming of Muslims, part of whom are very religiously assertive, has brought more visibility and hence awareness of religion at large into the public sphere. He believes this could be beneficial to other religions.[3]

In 2005, Evers said the Jewish community in the Netherlands should collaborate with Muslims to obtain recognition for their respective religious holidays and traditions. He suggested that the two communities should work together for the establishment of cemeteries whose dismantling would be prohibited, in keeping with both Jewish and Islamic law.[4]

The presence of many Muslims, along with the worldviews and behavior of some of them, has affected Dutch opinions both toward Islam and religion in general. Many Dutch have developed a negative view of Islam.

One very vocal spokesman of this group is Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Freedom Party (PVV). He has called, among other things, for prohibiting the Koran in the Netherlands as is Hitler’s Mein Kampf.[5] This led to some talkbacks on newspaper websites claiming that the Bible should be banned as well.

In reaction to Wilders’s statement, Labor Party education minister Ronald Plasterk asserted that the sale of Mein Kampf should be permitted. After much criticism he withdrew his proposal.[6] A poll among two thousand Dutch youngsters, two hundred of them Muslims, found 20 percent in favor of banning the sale of the Koran, while two-thirds favored canceling the prohibition on selling Mein Kampf. One in ten was of the opinion that it should be permitted to call out “Jews to the gas!”[7]

In the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, certain secular authors have been publicly expressing a strong animus against religion in general. Others, however, say that the violence emanating from Muslim countries has led them to assess Christianity more positively.[8]

Violence against Jews

Anti-Semitic violence by part of the Muslim community poses the most important challenge to the Jewish community. In particular, individuals of Moroccan ethnicity-most of them Berbers from northern Morocco-play a disproportionately large role in physical and verbal violence against the Jewish community.[9]

There have also been many expressions of anti-Semitism in mosques. For instance, in 2001 the El Tawheed mosque had to remove extreme anti-Semitic statements from its website.[10] In 2007, it became known that in the Turkish Milli Görüs mosque in Amsterdam one could find many journals full of “anti-Western, antidemocratic and anti-Semitic texts.”[11]

Evers relates how, being easily recognizable as a Jew by his attire, he is regularly insulted for being a Jew, sometimes by Muslims and sometimes by autochthonous Dutch. On one occasion a tram conductor called the police because Muslims threatened the rabbi.[12] In conversations with Jews who are recognizable as such by their physical appearance or clothes, they frequently mention that they have been threatened.

Over the past years, anti-Semitic incidents have occasionally been  mentioned in the general press.[13] Many occur in Amsterdam, where more than half of Dutch Jewry and an even larger part of those recognizable as Jews live. In 2003, Rabbi Menachem Sebbag told the Volkskrant daily that his wife had been threatened with a screwdriver by a Moroccan Dutch youngster who said he would cut her heart out. Sebbag, who understands Arabic, also related that someone told him in that language: “I’m going to slaughter you like a pig.”[14]

Removing One’s Kippa

Ruben Vis, secretary of the NIK, the umbrella organization of the Dutch Ashkenazi community, was quoted in the same article saying he was regularly insulted when wearing a kippa in public. Sometimes he was pushed in the tramway. He noted that since then he 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.[15]

A Jewish leader who visited this author in a hotel in the southern part of town was wearing a kippa, but said that in central Amsterdam and neighborhoods where many Muslims live, he wears a cap. Another Dutch Jewish leader mentioned how his son, who wears a kippa, phoned him for help when he was threatened by young Moroccans.

Motti Wolf, a youngster who has left the Netherlands and studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tells how at the Amsterdam South train station a group of Dutch Moroccans followed him while shouting “Jews to the gas.” He mentions that one always had to be alert when wearing a kippa in certain parts of Amsterdam.[16] Wolf also notes that when he was a student at the Jewish high school, he preferred not to visit certain areas where many Muslims live. If he had to go there, he put on a cap instead of a kippa.

The mother of another kippa-wearing youngster who now lives in Israel recounted that her son had been insulted about ten years ago in an Amsterdam museum by a group of young Muslim girls who called out “to the gas.” Although kippa wearers are few in the Netherlands, many of them have similar experiences.

Showing and Hiding Identities

Many Muslims insist on displaying their identity in public. For instance, women wear headscarves and some even cover their entire face except their eyes. Also, men increasingly wear djellebas. Yet many Muslims, by their hostile attitudes, prevent Jews from expressing their identity in the public square.

The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) reports that in recent years, about 40 percent of the more serious anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands have been perpetrated by North Africans, which in the Netherlands means Moroccans.[17] The Moroccan community, however, constitutes only 2 percent of the Dutch population.

Dutch Jews often are reluctant to speak about anti-Semitic experiences in public and exercise self-censorship. Some younger ones take self-defense courses. In private conversations, friends sometimes told this author that when they return from Israel and take a cab at the airport and the driver asks what country they are coming from, they often will not say.

An Appeasing Amsterdam Mayor

Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen as well as the municipal authorities largely ignored the attacks on Jews in the first years of the new century. Rosa van der Wieken, a Jewish psychotherapist, was a member of the Amsterdam municipal council from 2002 to 2006 for the VVD (Liberal Party). In April 2002 she was beaten by Moroccan anti-Israeli demonstrators after she had tried to extinguish a burning Israeli flag. The police intervened because the demonstration, coorganized by a Muslim group, caused destruction in Amsterdam.

After these events Van der Wieken went to see Cohen, an assimilated Jew and proponent of appeasement. He often expresses this by saying: “We have to keep things together.” She told him: “The Jews are very unhappy with you.” When he asked what he should have done, she replied: “It cannot be that in Amsterdam a group can be threatened in one way or the other. In that case you have to take a strong position against those who intimidate and defend those who are menaced. That is not the way you are perceived. You behave as if the issue does not interest you.”[18]

At the November 2003 Kristallnacht memorial meeting, Cohen took a somewhat clearer position and publicly said that for the first time since World War II a warning had to be issued against increasing anti-Semitism. However, he still did not explicitly mention the disproportionate role of young Moroccans as perpetrators; instead he used the term “other citizens of Amsterdam.” It was yet another indication that so long as the Jews seemed to be the main victims of Muslim violence, the full truth should not be spoken.

Earlier that year the psychologist Bloeme Evers-Emden, founder of the synagogue in Amsterdam West, had written a sharp article against Cohen’s de facto tolerance for the shouting by non-Western immigrants of anti-Semitic hate slogans in Amsterdam, such as: “Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas” and “Jews we have to kill.” She also wrote that she urged her children to leave the Netherlands.[19] In April 2004 this author was traveling in a rather full Amsterdam tramway when a non-Western youngster started singing “Jews you have to kill but it is forbidden.” That was considered normal by many in Amsterdam.

Several Jewish leaders told this author that it took a long time to convince Cohen to make additional funds available for the security of the Amsterdam Jewish schools. He claimed this would create a precedent concerning the security of Muslim schools. One might put it differently: the massive immigration of Muslims into Amsterdam has greatly augmented the risks for Jewish schools. Increased protection for these schools should not be paid for because it would create a financial commitment to the Muslim community, from which come a disproportionately large number of perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence.

In 2004, former parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali-an ex-Muslim of Somali origin-wrote in an open letter to Cohen: “The spirit of profound anti-Semitism that dominates the Muslims sees in you not a nice mayor of Amsterdam, who has the best intentions toward his citizens and wants to keep society together. They see a shrewd Jewish manager who wants to manipulate the world according to his will.”[20]

Later she said that despite all the facilities Cohen had created for Muslims, some of them still threatened him “to make him understand that whatever the Jew does to please them, he always remains a Jew. For the heads of the Amsterdam mosques, the mayor is the Jew Cohen.”[21]

Change in Societal Climate

The murder of Van Gogh together with the ensuing arson and other attacks on mosques and other Muslim institutions created a major change in the Dutch societal climate. Violence and anti-Western racism emanating from the Muslim community became a national issue instead of specifically a Jewish one. Many media also started putting great emphasis on crimes committed by non-Western immigrants, who are commonly referred to as allochtones.

One among many examples of such publicity occurred when six youngsters aged fifteen to nineteen were arrested in summer 2007 on suspicion of having beaten up two homosexuals in the center of Amsterdam. Many media stressed that four of the suspects were of Moroccan origin, one was from Surinam, and one was of Turkish origin.[22]

Ethnicity is not only mentioned when the motivation for the crime derives from an Islamic worldview, but also in cases of common violence or theft. Another example of such ethnic profiling occurred when the Dutch government announced it would provide five million euro to the four largest Dutch municipalities specifically to fight the criminality among the Moroccan community.[23]

Public Criticism

Yet another important development after the Van Gogh murder was the increased public criticism of Dutch Muslim extremists. Wilders, a former VVD parliamentarian, has made exposure of Muslim extremism and misbehavior the main point of his party’s platform. In the 2006 elections the PVV gained 9 out of the 150 seats in the parliament.[24] Polls in autumn 2007 gave him around twenty seats.[25] The heavily guarded Wilders receives frequent death threats from Muslims.

The Netherlands has become an increasingly xenophobic country. A study in 2005 by the American PEW research institute found that only 45 percent of the Dutch had a positive opinion of Muslims, 51 percent a negative one.[26]

A Dutch opinion poll confirmed this attitude. Ten percent of the Dutch population favors discriminating against people of non-Western origin. They consider that if employees have to be dismissed, non-Western immigrants should go first. Another 17 percent of Dutchmen said they are sometimes racist. Thirty-three percent stated that they had become more racist in recent years.[27] The frequency of these opinions indicates that a racist-and probably anti-Semitic-party could possibly emerge to the right of the populist-conservative PVV.

In practice, there is often discrimination in employing allochtones. The motivation is partly ethnoreligious. A non-Jewish employer mentioned to this author a different reason for not hiring some Muslims: “I do not hire fascists, nor am I going to employ somebody who admires a mass murderer such as Bin Laden. Neither do I want anti-Semites or antiwhite racists in my firm.”

The Rise of Wilders’s Popularity

The entire Dutch political establishment attacks Wilders on many of his positions. Yet gradually other parties have also become more stringent in their positions toward misbehavior of extreme Muslims. Henk Kamp, a parliamentarian and former VVD minister has suggested that imams who prevent integration of Muslims into Dutch society should be punished, for instance, by losing their Dutch nationality or by the closure of their mosques.[28] When a newly published book mentioned major irregularities at the immigration services, both the PVV and the VVD asked for a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s immigration policies.[29]

Wilders’s popularity is on the rise for a number of reasons. One is that he states explicitly and sometimes in an extreme way that the main danger to Dutch society and the West comes from the radical movements in the Islamic world. The ongoing death threats against Wilders and against some other critics of Islam such as law professor and poet Afshin Ellian-an Iranian who found asylum in the Netherlands-may further strengthen the PVV position.

Another factor probably favoring Wilders is the attitude of the so-called “silent majority of moderate Muslims.” Few among them speak out against the violence committed or preached in the name of their religion and culture by other Dutch Muslims. This encompasses a broad array of disparate issues such as plans for terrorist acts, honor killings and beatings, attacks on dissident Muslims, homosexuals, and Jews, and discrimination against women.

Wilders’s popularity is also enhanced by the often blurred position of the government and the political establishment toward misbehavior by allochtones. The weakness of the Dutch police and justice system probably also contribute to Wilders’s popularity among an increasing number of voters who want law and order.

Ignoring Problems

Another concern is incitement to violence, antiwhite racism, and anti-Semitism by satellite TV from Muslim countries, watched by a significant number of Dutch Muslims. Critics of Islam, however, often impose self-censorship out of fear of being physically attacked or having to live with severe security measures.

Sometimes actual censorship is imposed. In 2006 the rector of Utrecht University and his colleagues exerted great pressure on one of its professors, Pieter van der Horst, not to mention Muslim anti-Semitism in his retirement lecture. Van der Horst did so, but when this became known publicly it led to a major debate.[30] He also claimed that the rector had invented Muslim threats on Van der Horst’s life when pressuring him.[31]

One leading Dutch intellectual, who wants to remain anonymous, told this author: “Freedom of expression exists in the Netherlands only on paper. On some issues there is none. Multiculturalism is a very dangerous subject. I’ll not talk to you about it.”[32]

The Dutch government has implicitly admitted the limited possibilities of reducing the widespread dislike of Islam. The 2007 budget of Ella Vogelaar, the integration minister, stated that 50 percent of the youth in the Netherlands now have a negative view on Islam. Vogelaar wants to reduce this to 40 percent by 2012, as she considers that less tolerance of Islam leads to less tolerance of Muslims.[33]

Integration Problems

The nonintegration of many Muslims and particularly Moroccans has become a frequent topic of debate. A recent book written for the Academy of the Police was titled by its author, Fleur Jurgens, The Moroccans’ Drama.

She cites data that seven out of ten male Moroccans in the Netherlands leave school with no useful diploma. Forty percent of Moroccan youngsters are unemployed. Ten percent are registered with the police as suspects for at least one criminal act. This percentage is the highest for any ethnic minority and is twice as high among second-generation Moroccans compared to first-generation Moroccan immigrants. One in three youngsters in youth institutions of the justice system is of Moroccan origin. [34]

Jurgens says that Jews and Israel were mentioned a number of times in conversations with Moroccon youngsters. “What they said were exclusively stereotyped expressions such as ‘Jews control the world.'”[35]

In retrospect it is clear that Muslim attacks on Jews, aimed at a small, vulnerable group, were a prelude for what was to come. Their real target was Dutch society at large. This sometimes takes extreme forms. For instance, the refrain of a song by the popular singer Appa is “I care a shit about the Authorities.” One of his hits has been downloaded by a million youngsters, showing that his attitudes are not confined to the marginal. Appa has threatened Wilders and was quoted as saying that “if somebody puts a bullet in his f- head, I would not mind.”[36]


Some Muslims cause substantial problems in the educational system as well. There have been many complaints in recent years about anti-Semitic expressions in school. In 2005 a study of radicalism in Amsterdam schools found that 31 percent of teachers had experienced anti-Semitic remarks in their class. The same percentage noted anti-Western remarks.[37]

Examples of extreme expressions from an Islamic perspective mentioned frequently by teachers included support for Bin Laden (thirty-two times), support for terrorist attacks such as 9/11, the Madrid bombings, and Palestinian suicide bombings (twenty-three times), and statements against Jews or Israel (ten times).[38]

Similarly, it has become known that some teachers do not dare to speak about the Holocaust in class because they fear aggression by some of the pupils. In 2003 Rob Oudkerk, then Amsterdam municipal councilor in charge of education, told the daily Het Parool that several teachers had informed him that the subject of the Holocaust had become almost impossible to teach.[39] He said it not only fostered an intimidating atmosphere but in some cases led to threats to the teachers over the telephone, such as: “We know where your child goes to school.” As a result, Jewish teachers were inclined to conceal their Jewish identity.

In 2005 Fenny Brinkman, who taught for some time at an Amsterdam Muslim school, published a book on her experiences there entitled Haram (Impure). In it she tells how a colleague taught about the Holocaust in one of the classes. The next day several fathers complained about it. The head of the school thereupon decided that in the future, attention would only be given to the persecution of gypsies because Jews were evil people.[40]

More Problems at School

In their book Country of Hate and Envy, journalists Margalith Kleijwegt and Max van Weezel recount that in the public ROC Amsterdam school a few years ago, pupils on the occasion of Christmas prepared a home-made book for their teachers as a present. It contained some pictures of Osama bin Laden, and a number of teachers, one of them of Jewish origin, did not accept the present.

The school’s director considered this excessive and said: “I think: just walk through our school building and look at what the pupils stick up in the canteen. Pictures of Bin Laden and swastikas. We have many youngsters in the school who are fascinated by Osama bin Laden. I can imagine that our Jewish teachers are shocked. But the fact is that many of our pupils think that way. We have to learn to live with this.”[41]

This was a typical example of how many Dutchmen are willing to accept the misbehavior if they can avoid a confrontation with extreme Muslims. The school’s approach also does not render much service to these pupils by signaling that such behavior is tolerable or even acceptable. On the contrary, it may further reduce their chances of finding employment.

The attitude of the director also reflects what could be called humanitarian racism. She holds Muslims to a lower standard than whites, viewing them as less responsible for their acts and less able to control their prejudices and urges. This implies the racist judgment that Muslims are inferior human beings.

Islamic Schools among the Worst

There has also been anti-Israeli incitement at Muslim schools. In 2001 at the Muslim elementary school Bilal, in the city of Amersfoort, pupils watched a violent-and probably anti-Semitic-video showing Palestinians being maltreated and killed by Israeli soldiers.[42] Bilal is considered one of the most liberal Muslim schools in the Netherlands.

As so often occurs, problems involving Jews, or nowadays Israel, are indicators of much larger ones. In December 2006 it became known that one of the two Dutch Muslim high schools, the Islamitisch College Amsterdam (ICA), was the worst school educationally in the Netherlands. It was graded 3.3 on a scale of 3 to 15. The VVD parliamentarian Charlie Aptroot asked the education minister to close the school.[43] He said it violated the constitution because its education was focused against democracy, while discriminating against and fostering hatred of Jews and other non-Muslims.[44]

In view of the many problems with Muslim schools, some politicians have urged the elimination of all religious schools. At present the issue is not much in the public eye. If it gains prominence in the future, it would mean that Christian and Jewish schools that have never caused problems similar to some of the Muslim ones would have to pay the price for the misbehavior of the latter.

After years of frequent criticism of Muslim schools, the Dutch government finally recognized that they may pose a broad array of particular problems. In September 2007 the deputy ministers Sharon Dijksma of the Labor Party and Marja van Bijsterveldt of the Christian Democrats informed parliament that the Inspectorate of Education would specifically investigate “abuses” in Islamic schools. Individual inspections had found many irregularities in such schools.[45]

Islamic Rituals

Another problem that affects the Jewish community concerns the public criticism of Islamic rituals. The media sometimes write negatively about slaughter according to the Islamic traditions, which sometimes takes place outside of slaughterhouses. This also leads to criticism of shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter).

Female circumcision is under heavy attack in the Netherlands. Hirsi Ali has strongly condemned the practice. After the government made female circumcision a criminal act, Hirsi Ali appeared on television and also decried the circumcision of boys and asked for it to be criminalized as well. After criticism from the Jewish community, she has not repeated this.[46] In 2006, she left the Netherlands for the United States after many threats from the Muslim community.

A very different matter on which little information exists is whether Muslims are interested in purchasing products with a kashrut sign as they can be sure these do not contain pork-derived ingredients.

The Consequences for Israel

The presence of many Muslims in Dutch society also has many consequences for the attitude of some politicians toward Israel. Trying to attract Muslim voters sometimes leads to anti-Israeli declarations.

This occurred, for instance, before the municipal elections in 2006. Bert Cremers, chairman of the Labor Party in the Rotterdam municipal council, as well as local party chairman Ocker van Munster, made anti-Israeli proposals and tried to create a lobby to influence the Labor Party to adopt an anti-Israeli position.

Van Munster said, among other things, that Israel should honor the pre-1967 borders and that “the Israeli taboo” had to be broken. He added that the Netherlands’s moral obligations toward the Jews stemming from the Holocaust had muddied the arguments against Israel. His positions drew much criticism.[47]

Ronald Sorensen, head of the populist Leefbaar Rotterdam faction said: “The Rotterdam Labor Party is trying with this action to win Muslim votes. It is sad that a local party tries to occupy itself with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and does not fight against anti-Semitism. It would be better if they occupied themselves with Rotterdam harbor and the population.”[48]

The proposals of the local Labor leaders were irrelevant to solving the many problems of Rotterdam, including substantial crime. In this way Israel is sometimes an instrument for Dutch politicians to divert attention from the problems of part of the Muslim community, as well as the causes of these problems.

In the 2006 municipal elections Labor gained a large majority of the Muslim votes nationwide. Many more Muslims than before were elected to municipal councils. It can be expected that some will actively promote anti-Israeli policies.

More Political Danger for Israel

The multifaceted Labor Party (PvdA), which became part of the Dutch government after the 2006 parliamentary elections, has over the years developed many problematic positions toward Israel. In July 2007 the members of the Dutch parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee visited the Middle East. Martijn van Dam of the Labor Party met-together with parliamentarians of the extreme-Left parties SP and Groen Links (Green Left)-with Hamas representatives in Damascus. The Dutch government, however, opposes contacts with Hamas.

Lilliane Ploumen, a former member of Green Left, was elected as Labor’s new chair at its October 2007 congress. She is director of the Catholic NGO Cordaid, which has frequently demonstrated anti-Israeli attitudes.[49]

Wim Kortenoeven, a senior executive of CIDI says that

the Labor Party now has a partly Muslim cadre. This has been further enlarged after the 2007 municipal elections particularly in Rotterdam. A number of Muslim Labor Party officials do not even speak Dutch decently. Some admitted publicly that they do not know the party platform. I am afraid that the Labor Party in particular will increasingly take the preferences and loyalties of Muslim Dutchmen into account.

Kortenoeven adds: “Another danger for relations with Israel derives from the attitudes of the Socialist Party and the Green Left Party. In these parties the people who see an ideological ‘relationship’ between international socialism and Islamism have much influence. They think the so-called nonracial structure of Islam expresses international solidarity and justice.”[50]

The Muslim-Jewish Dialogue

Various Dutch Jewish representatives say in private conversations: “We will have to live together with Muslims and thus have to become more familiar with each other.” This seemingly neutral expression, however, is part of the multiple distortions that beset this subject. The same is true for the Jewish-Moroccan dialogue that was initiated by Jewish representatives because of the anti-Semitic behavior of some Moroccan youngsters, added to the many other problems caused to the Jews by Muslims.

On 4 May 2003-the national Memorial Day for the victims of World War II-several commemorative ceremonies were disrupted. In De Baarsjes, an Amsterdam neighborhood, Moroccan youngsters shouted about twenty times “Jews have to be killed” during the two minutes of silence in memory of the dead. In another part of town, Slotervaart, youngsters played soccer with the memorial wreaths.[51]

After the 2003 incidents, various Jewish representatives took the initiative for more contact with Muslims and, in particular, Moroccans. This led, among other things, to the annual MAJO soccer competition in which Moroccan and Jewish teams play.

Also as a result of the 2003 incidents, Mayor Cohen and his Labor deputy Ahmed Aboutaleb-at present a deputy minister-established in 2004 a program in which Moroccan and Jewish students told schoolchildren about the Holocaust. Analysis showed that it had improved the children’s attitude toward Jews.[52]

The Jewish-Moroccan Network

After the 2003 incidents senior Jewish representatives asked the Amsterdam mayor to help establish a dialogue with the Moroccan community. This led to the Jewish-Moroccan network (JMNA), which held closed meetings in Cohen’s residence from the end of 2003 till 2005.

This network went public in February 2006. On that occasion Cohen said it was better to talk to each other than to attack each other. This was a misplaced remark because the physical and racist aggression only comes from one side-the Moroccan one. In May 2006 a mixed group of the network visited Morocco. Aboutaleb also participated in part of this trip. As of October 2007 the JMNA website had not been updated since early 2006.[53]

There have been several initiatives, often taken by Jews, to improve Muslim-Jewish relations. One was when CIDI helped Muslims in De Baarsjes set up a monitoring center against discrimination.[54] Another was a course for Jews and Muslims about the two religions that was organized jointly with Ulamon, an organization of Ahmadiya Muslims.[55] The Jewish social-work organization JMW arranged contacts between elderly Jewish people and a school with many allochtone pupils. This led to the publication of two books of letters that were exchanged.[56]

The dialogue between Jews and Muslims is a positive development. It provides people with basic understanding of each other’s religion, culture, and mindset. It also creates personal links and can thus be useful particularly in periods of tension. One should not, however, expect too much from the dialogue. The Muslims who participate in it are not the ones who incite against the Jewish community or attack it publicly.

Given the difference in size between the two communities, the impact of the dialogue must remain limited. There are about thirty thousand Jews in the Netherlands, of whom the majority are highly assimilated. The Muslim community is more than thirty times larger.

Negative Aspects

Contacts are of various kinds. There are public meetings. Some groups visit both a synagogue and a mosque. For the Muslim community, the Iftar meal at the end of Ramadan has become a public event to which Jewish representatives are also sometimes invited. There is also a women’s network and various other initiatives.

Some aspects of the dialogue are negative. One is that Jews often remain silent-to avoid creating an unpleasant atmosphere-about the problems Muslims cause to the Jewish community. One example of how Jewish sources obfuscate situations was an article in the JMW magazine Benjamin.

It blurred issues of conflict, saying at one point that “the Jewish-Moroccan Network was initiated after a number of incidents.” This neutral formulation conceals the fact that the incidents exclusively involved aggressions against Jews and their traditions by Moroccans.

The article said that the network was a joint effort by the Dutch Jewish roof organization Centraal Joods Overleg (CJO) and Moroccan organizations to bring the two communities closer. Jewish participants told this author that the initiative came solely from the Jewish side. One might have expected Moroccan organizations to take this initiative out of shame for the many anti-Semitic attacks originating in their community.

The article then stated that a joint declaration was prepared to establish the Jewish-Moroccan Network of Amsterdam. Its purpose would be: “To bend the intolerance in the Netherlands toward a climate of respect and work jointly against: expressions of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of discrimination, the hardening in the Dutch social and political climate, the ‘we’ and ‘they’ mentality, and against the stigmatization of groups of people.”[57]

This declaration papers over the asymmetry between the Jewish and Moroccan communities. In 2005 this author asked a Dutch expert on discrimination, who preferred to remain anonymous, a politically incorrect question: “Among the thousand most extreme racists in Amsterdam, how many are Moroccans?”

She answered: “Ten percent of the Amsterdam population are Moroccans. Their share among the extreme racists is much higher.” After second thoughts, the expert modified her statement: “It is perhaps better to say that you find large percentages of them among anti-Semites, those who show discriminatory behavior toward women, and those who hate homosexuals.”

Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism: Not Equivalent

Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are often presented as equivalent forms of discrimination. Scheffer has analyzed this misconception. He notes that a comparison between prewar Dutch anti-Semitism and current Islamophobia “blurs the fact that September 11 happened.” Scheffer adds that while one cannot blame Muslim communities for the violence taking place in the name of Islam, “the terrorism has given the societal discomfort about Islam a major impetus.”[58]

Nearly all those suspected, arrested, or convicted of terrorism in the Netherlands are Muslims. The anti-integration attitudes of sizable parts of the Muslim community are radically different in nature than those of previous immigration waves, including the difficult one from the Moluccas after Indonesia gained independence.

Dutch society could even live with the desire of part of the Muslims not to integrate. Many in the relatively small Chinese community have not integrated either. The problem is of a different nature: anti-Western hatred and incitement are beamed daily from the Middle East to the Muslim communities and several imams in the Netherlands also preach anti-Western hatred.

Another factor that makes anti-Semitism and Islamophobia nonequivalent is that Judaism does not proselytize. Islam, however, is an actively and sometimes aggressively proselytizing religion that thus creates resistance in Dutch and other European societies.

Muslims, predominantly Moroccans, sometimes attack Israel while meeting with Jews, proclaiming that the Dutch Jewish community is responsible for Israel’s behavior. The Jewish representatives in their verbal vegetarianism do not want to offend their counterparts by stating that according to this logic, Dutch Muslims are responsible for the many dictators, genocide promoters, mass murderers, anti-Semitic propagandists, and perpetrators of atrocities against women and children in the Muslim world. They should also be blamed for the murders by the Sudanese government and its allies in Darfur, the multiple killings in Iraq, the vicious statements of Ahmadinejad, and the past murders by the Khomeini and Afghan Taliban governments. At best, however, Dutch Jews limit themselves to defending Israel.

The Jews as a Model for Integration

In the debate about the future integration of the Dutch Muslim community, the issue of the integration of the Dutch Jews in the past and present frequently plays a role in various ways.

Aboutaleb, in particular, is a great believer in the role model of Jews for the future of Dutch Muslims. He said, painting a far too rosy picture:

We [the Dutch people] have received the Dutch Jews in a fantastic way in our society. The integration that resulted from it was a very special tribute to the absorption capability of a sponge and the willingness of others to adjust themselves to that society. Yet cultural luggage did not have to be abandoned. In the same way, I have many cultural identities that make me what I am and with which I am very happy…. The terrible events of World War II are totally outside the wishes of the Dutch people.[59]

Yet Aboutaleb, an orthodox Muslim who prays five times a day, can hardly be happy with the example Dutch Jews provide. Most are largely assimilated. Less than 5 percent of Dutch Jews observe the main laws of Jewish Orthodoxy. This is far from an ideal example for the Dutch Muslim future that Aboutaleb aims for.

Aboutaleb’s views may also well be wishful thinking for several other reasons. One is that the Jews immigrated into the Netherlands over hundreds of years and never even approached the current numbers of Muslims. Yet, even though Jews were always a small group and have lived in the Netherlands for centuries, prejudices against them have not disappeared.

There are many other major differences between the two communities. As noted, Judaism does not proselytize. Nor has it ever been permeated with violent hatred toward Dutch society.

Also, the desire for learning is far less widespread in the culture of the Muslim immigrants than it is in the Jewish community. Says Johannes Houwink ten Cate, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Amsterdam University:

It is naïve to think that the Dutch Jews will be an example for the Moroccans as far as acquiring a social position is concerned…. The social position of the Jews has always been different than that of the Moroccans now. Jews usually considered schooling important and thought about the professions of their children. Often families took collective decisions on this…. I never heard anything about the focus on children’s learning among Moroccans.[60]

Some Muslims see the Jews as a role model in a very different way. Liesbeth van der Horst, director of the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam notes an experience she and her colleagues have with visits to the museum by Moroccan children. Afterward, the children think something like: “The Jews were a group that stood apart in Dutch society and were deported. We are today a separate group so that could happen to us as well.” This necessitates explaining, Van der Horst adds, that the persecution of the Jews was initiated by the Germans and not by the Dutch.[61] Yet the expectation that at some time many Muslims will have to leave Europe is alive in some Muslim circles.


The tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims that have been augmented by poorly conceived Dutch immigration policies will not disappear in the coming decades and may even worsen. In the second half of 2007 it became known from the Dutch AIVD intelligence service that there were about twenty Salafist preachers traveling through the Netherlands who focus on youngsters.[62] Dutch interior minister Guusje van der Horst said that 20-30,000 people in the Netherlands are receptive to this trend, of whom approximately 2,500 are activists.[63]

The CJO has sent a letter to the government expressing its concern about the possible influence of these preachers. It asked the government to monitor whether they incite to anti-Semitism.[64]

The Dutch Jewish community will have to devote much more attention to its strategy. A strong, uncritical identification by some Jewish leaders with all problems of the Muslim community-which in part have been caused by some of the latter’s members-would be a major mistake. By pursuing such an approach Dutch Jewry risks getting caught in the middle if tensions further increase in the Netherlands.

*     *     *

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is an international business strategist who has been a consultant to governments, international agencies, and boards of some of the world’s largest corporations. Among the eleven books he has published are Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003) and European-Israeli Relations: Between Confusion and Change? (JCPA and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2006).

*     *     *


[1] “Support for Terror Wanes among Muslim Publics: Islamic Extremism: Common Concern for Muslim and Western Publics,” Washington, DC, Pew Research Center, July 2005,

[2] “Toespraak Paul Scheffer (een samenvatting),”  in Drie decennia CIDI (Soesterberg: Aspekt, 2006), 74. [Dutch]

[3] Personal communication, Rabbi Raph Evers.

[4] Romana Abels, “Toenadering Joden en Marokkanen,”  Trouw, 12 September 2005. [Dutch]

[5] Wierd Duk, Ap van den Berg, “De omstreden missie van Geert Wilders,” De Gelderlander, 9 August 2007. [Dutch]

[6] “Plasterk: Mein Kampf blijft verboden,” Volkskrant, 12 September 2007. [Dutch]

[7] “Enquete een op vijf jongeren wil koranverbod,” Trouw, 3 October 2007. [Dutch]

[8] See, e.g., Stuart Jeffries, “Faith,” The Guardian, 26 February 2006.

[9] Hadassa Hirschfeld, “Antisemitische incidenten in Nederland : Overzicht 2005 en 1 Januari-5 Mei 2006,” Centrum Informatie en Documentatie Israel, 55. [Dutch]

[10] “De ongrijpbare islamitische school,” NRC Handelsblad, 20 October 2001. [Dutch]

[11] Lodewijk Dros, “AIVD wist van coup Mili Görüs,” Trouw, 6 Juni 2007. [Dutch]

[12] Personal communication, Rabbi Raph Evers.

[13] For overviews on Dutch anti-Semitism, see Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Dutch Society,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism 22, 1 July 2004; Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Antisemitism and Permissiveness in Dutch Society,”  Posen Papers in Contemporary Antisemitism 4, Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, 2006.

[14] Steffie Kouters, “Joden voelen zich ontheemd in hun eigen Mokum,” de Volkskrant, 1 November  2003. [Dutch]

[15] Ibid.

[16] Personal communication, Motti Wolf.

[17] Hirschfeld, “Antisemitische incidenten in Nederland.”

[18] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Rosa van der Wieken, to be published.

[19] Bloeme Evers-Emden, “Burgemeester Cohen moet stelling nemen,” NIW, 30 May 2003. [Dutch]

[20] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “Confronting Israeli Realities with Dutch Ones,” in European-Israeli Relations: Between Confusion and Change (Jerusalem: JCPA, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, 2006), 166.

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Twee homo’s mishandeld,” Het Parool, 2 July 2007. [Dutch]

[23] “Extra Geld voor aanpak criminele Marokkanen,” AD, 19 May 2007. [Dutch]

[24] “Parliament” in this article refers to its Second Chamber.

[25] “Peiling: PVV groter dan PvdA,” De Telegraaf, 30 September 2007. [Dutch]

[26] “Support for Terror Wanes.”

[27] Poll by Motivaction, June 2006, as reported by Floor Ligtvoet, “Kwart heeft hekel aan allochtonen,” Het Parool, 3 June 2006. [Dutch]

[28] “Kamp: tegenwerken integratie strafbaar,” De Telegraaf, 27 Maart 2007. [Dutch]

[29] “PVV en VVD vragen onderzoek naar vreemdelingenbeleid,” Het Parool, 1 October 2007. [Dutch]

[30] Pieter W. van der Horst, “Tying Down Academic Freedom,” Wall Street Journal, 30 June 2006.

[31] Pieter W. van der Horst, “Gispen verzwijgt inbreuk op academische vrijheid,” Volkskrant, 11 October 2007. [Dutch]

[32] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Hachofesh wehapachad,” Makor Rishon, 22 December 2006. [Hebrew]

[33] “Rentier: Vogelaar is uit op ‘islamisering,'” Nederlands Dagblad, 20 September 2007. [Dutch]

[34] Fleur Jurgens, Het Marokkanendrama (The Moroccans’ Drama) (Amsterdam: J. M. Meulenhoff, 2007). [Dutch]

[35] Personal communication, Fleur Jurgens.

[36] Myrthe Hilkens, “Schijt aan de overheid,’ De Pers, 10 August 2007. [Dutch]

[37] Marian Visser, Jeroen Slot, “Extremisme en Radicalisering in het Amsterdamse Voortgezet Onderwijs,” Amsterdam, Gemeente Amsterdam, Dienst Onderzoek en Statistiek, 27 June 2005. [Dutch]

[38] Ibid., 10.


[40] Fenny Brinkman, Haram (Amsterdam: Balans, 2005), 45, 46. [Dutch]

[41] Margalith Kleijwegt, Max van Weezel, Het land van haat en nijd (Ansterdam: Balans, 2006), 108. [Dutch]

[42] . [Dutch]

[43] “Voortbestaan Islamitisch College staat op spel,” Trouw, 5 December 2006. [Dutch]

[44] “Onderwijsminister zet alles op alles om subsidie stop te zetten,” Trouw, 6 December 2006. [Dutch]

[45] “Onderzoek naar Misstanden op islamitische scholen,” De Pers, 25 September 2007. [Dutch]

[46] “Hirsi Ali wil verbod besnijdenis jongens,” Rotterdams Dagblad, 4 October 2004. [Dutch]

[47] “PvdA irriteert met Palestina-Platform,” De Telegraaf, 16 August 2005. [Dutch]

[48] Ibid.

[49] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Time to Scrutinize ‘Cordaid,'” Jerusalem Post, 28 June 2007.

[50] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Wim Kortenoeven, to be published.

[51] “Allochtonen verstoren herdenking vierde mei,” Het Parool, 8 May 2003. [Dutch]

[52] R. Evers, “De Kinderen weten van niets,” NIW, 1 October 2004; “Het woordje vrede ontbreekt,” Amsterdams Stadsblad, 17 Mei 2006. [Dutch]


[54] “Joden helpen moslims islamofobie te weren,” Trouw, 18 December 2004. [Dutch]

[55] Drie decennia CIDI, 27.

[56] (Niet) van gisteren, 2005, (Niet) van gisteren, 2006 (Amsterdam: Joods Maatschappelijk Werk). [Dutch]

[57] Benjamin, April 2006, 17, 63. [Dutch]

[58] “Toespraak Paul Scheffer,” 73-74.

[59] Steve Austen, Kaaskoppen (Amsterdam: Cossee, 2005), 47. [Dutch]

[60] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Johannes Houwink Ten Cate, “Nederlandse Joden in een maatschappij zonder waarden,” Aleh, September 2007. [Dutch]

[61] Personal communication, Liesbeth van der  Horst.

[62] “Salafistische predikers steeds actiever in Nederland,” CIDI Israel Nieuwsbrief, 3 October 2007. [Dutch]

[63] “Ter Horst: 30.000 potentiele salafisten,” Trouw, 5 October 2007. [Dutch]

[64] “Salafistische predikers steeds actiever in Nederland.”