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Symbolic and Other Roles of Jews in Dutch Society

Filed under: World Jewry
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Out of the total Dutch population of 16 million, Jews represent about two in every thousand. Jews often play a symbolic role in Dutch society which exceeds their actual importance. One facet of this is their image as absolute victims. Second, the Jewish community has on various occasions been used by Dutch authorities as instruments in achieving political goals. The Jews have also been the typical outsiders in Dutch society and anti-Semitic stereotypes are still very much alive. In addition, Dutch Jews are seen by many Dutchmen as responsible for Israel’s actions. Finally, the Jews fulfill a ‘sensor’ function for events to come. If all the Jews were to leave the country, Dutch society would still operate without significant difficulties. However, the symbolic role of the Jews in The Netherlands is so great that it is doubtful whether the country could do without its Jews.



The number of Halachic Jews in The Netherlands is about 30,000.[1] Many are highly assimilated. Out of a national population of 16 million, Jews only represent about two in every thousand. As perceived, however by society at large they often play a symbolic role in Dutch society which exceeds their real importance. Jews are far more frequently referred to in public discourse than their numbers warrant.

One aspect of this symbolic role is their image as absolute victims due to the extreme toll of the Holocaust. Of the 140,000 Jews living in The Netherlands at the start of the Second World War, more than 100,000 were murdered. Dutch authorities greatly assisted the German occupier in their arrests and deportation of Jews to the concentration and extermination camps in Eastern Europe.

The second main symbolic role involves use of the Jews by Dutch authorities and others on various occasions as instruments to achieve political goals. The third role is the Jew as the typical ‘other,’ as outsiders in Dutch society although today this role is increasingly being filled by 1.6 million non-western immigrants and their progeny, almost all of whom have come to The Netherlands in the last four decades. Anti-Semitic stereotypes also continue to play a significant role in Dutch society, as can be seen in verbal expressions used only in relation to Jews. Many Dutchmen view the Jews as responsible for Israel’s actions as well. Furthermore, as certain phenomena affect Jews first and only later reach society at large, the Jews fulfill a ‘sensor’ function for events to come. As a case in point, the history and extent of their integration into Dutch society is sometimes mentioned as a possible model for the nature of future absorption of non-Western immigrants, particularly Muslims.


Before discussing these roles, it should be noted that only a minority of Jews – fewer than 9,000 including children – are affiliated with Jewish organizations.[2] There are three main religious bodies: the Ashkenazi Nederlands Israelitisch Kerkgenootschap (NIK), the Progressive Liberaal Joodse Gemeente (LJG) and the Sephardi Portugees Israelitisch Kerkgenootschap (PIK). Others identify themselves as Jews, or even as ‘sometimes feeling Jewish’ in various ways.[3] One example is the internationally known novelist Leon de Winter who says: “My Jewishness is that I identify with Israel, I am not religious, but strongly show my sympathies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”[4]

Many Dutch Jews, however, are so assimilated that even other Jews do not recognize them as such unless they mention it. Certain Jews are identifiable by name even if Judaism means little or nothing to them. The best known Dutch Jew is the mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen. Nothing about him suggests being Jewish is a personal identity factor. Cohen does not deny he is a Jew and knows that many define him as such because of his name. This is also manifested in the anti-Semitic hate mail he receives.

More than 60 years after the end of the Holocaust some Jews are still afraid of the potential impact of a negative image of Judaism in Dutch society. Johannes Houwink ten Cate, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Amsterdam University, says: “Rather assimilated Jews often have the feeling that there are negative social repercussions if you tell other Dutchmen that you feel connected with Jewish culture …They think ….. that this will create problems for their children.”[5]

A Pre-War View

One of the first Dutchmen to point out that Jews fulfill a symbolic function in society was the leading pre-war intellectual and writer Menno ter Braak, who committed suicide when the Germans invaded The Netherlands in May 1940. Jozeph Melkman[6] discussed this issue in his book Beloved Enemy, which deals with the image of the Jew in Dutch literature. Its title accurately captures the Dutch ambivalence toward Jews. Regarding Ter Braak, Melkman wrote: “This sharp observer, who made an effort to analyze the complexity of the Jewish problem … came to the conclusion that the Jews are an example for other phenomena which occur in society.” One of these roles, according to Ter Braak, was to be “the symbol of adaptability in general.”

Melkman also highlights the fact that after the Second World War, many non-Jewish Dutch writers created Jewish protagonists in their books or plays. Previously, this had been almost the exclusive domain of Jews, the best known of which were Herman Heijermans and Jacob Israel de Haan.[7]

The Absolute Victim

The Dutch still primarily view the Jew as the absolute victim, an image which is linked to the Holocaust. This has deeply permeated the Dutch collective consciousness. It is partly symbolized by the figure of Anne Frank, who has become a Holocaust icon. Dutch film director Willy Lindwer won an International Emmy award in 1988 for his documentary “The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank,” which deals with her suffering in the concentration camps and her death in Bergen Belsen. The director of the Anne Frank House did not allow him to film inside the building, saying, according to Lindwer, “Anne Frank is a symbol. Symbols should not be shown dying in a concentration camp.”[8]

Streets and schools in The Netherlands have been named after Anne Frank. A small statue of her stands in front of the house in Amsterdam where her family lived. The presentation of her story abroad has had a positive influence on the image of The Netherlands.

Becoming Posthumously Dutch

The symbolic importance of Anne Frank in the Dutch consciousness became even clearer in 2004. At that time the Dutch KRO TV network broadcast a program where viewers could vote for “the most important Dutch personality ever” out of 200 names. Anne Frank was among the top ten chosen.[9] Anne Frank, however, never acquired Dutch citizenship. She died as a stateless person. The question thus arose as to how a non-Dutch person could be one of the most important Dutch personalities. The KRO then started a campaign to have Anne Frank naturalized posthumously. A majority of parliamentarians was willing to support this request. Several appealed to the minister in charge to deal with this matter.[10]

Even if posthumous nationalization had been possible under Dutch law, it would have had weighty implications. David Barnouw of the Dutch Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) responded to this proposal by saying that all German Jews who had fled to The Netherlands and were murdered during the war should retroactively become Dutchmen.[11] One might also wonder what would be the status of those who had been refused entry by the Dutch at the Dutch-German border and were later murdered?

Ruben Vis, the secretary of the NIK, said that the tragic history of the stateless German refugees in The Netherlands was used by the KRO to achieve higher ratings. He said that it would have been better to study the fate of Anne and her family. Vis also wrote that the Catholic KRO was apparently influenced by the adoration of the dead and suggested that Anne Frank had become a non-Catholic saint.[12]

Dead Jews

In 2002 a poll was conducted on which iconic people the Dutch admired the most. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi were the top three nominated. They were followed by Anne Frank, who was the first person associated with The Netherlands.[13] In autumn 2007 Anne Frank was again in the news. The Amsterdam neighborhood authorities had plans to cut down a diseased tree she had been able to see from her hiding place. The public outcry was such to stop any action of this sort. The tree thus became a secondary symbol of Anne. Newspaper columnist Elma Drayer wrote “We in The Netherlands greatly love dead Jews. We want nothing to do with living Jews – in particular if they live in Israel, but here as well.”[14]

A number of synagogues in towns which had Jewish communities in the past have been restored in recent years. De Winter commented: “These are very often nice little picturesque buildings. The nice thing about synagogues is that people have the feeling that some kind of ‘restitution’ is being made. By restoring the stones one doesn’t only repair the little old building. It is also seen as a major ethical gesture.”[15] Dead Jews and their past indeed often play a more important role in The Netherlands than the living.

Being Grateful

In the aftermath of WWII, the Jews did not yet embody absolute victimhood. On the contrary, they were expected to be grateful for what the ‘good’ Dutchmen had done for them and remain moot about the acts of many ‘bad’ Dutchmen who had helped in the preparatory stages of the murder of other Jews. At that time the actual impact of Dutch resistance on the German occupier was greatly exaggerated. In this scenario Jews were, at best, secondary victims. They were presented as having been led to slaughter without resisting. No one asked how a group which had been isolated through Dutch collaboration could have resisted without weapons. It later became known that Jews had played significant roles in the Dutch resistance. Only in 1988 was a monument to the Jewish resistance erected next to the Amsterdam city hall.[16]

In the early post-war years, the city council turned down a proposal by the Amsterdam Ashkenazi community to put up a monument in memory of the murdered Jews in a square in the heart of Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter. The square is the location of the large Portuguese synagogue as well as the major Ashkenazi ones which were plundered during the war. Only decades later were they refurbished and turned into the Jewish Historic Museum. In 1950, the first monument erected in Amsterdam by Jews was dedicated to the Dutch who had helped Jews during the war.[17] The Jews thus collaborated in distorting the essence of their war history.

Furthermore on the square where the municipality had refused to have a memorial put up for the murdered Jews, a monument called the “Dockworker” was erected in 1952 in memory of the two-day solidarity strike by the Amsterdam population with the persecuted Jews in February 1941. In fact, almost all strikers thereafter left the Jews to their fate. When the “Dockworker” was put up, M. H. Gans, editor of the NIW, the Dutch Jewish weekly, wrote: ‘It is like a monument to anti-aircraft defense on the grave of those who were killed by the bombardment.'”[18]

In recent years the Holocaust has been met with a certain degree of lassitude. A poll for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in 2007 found that 31% of the Dutch were of the opinion that Jews talk too much about what happened to them during the Holocaust.[19] The Dutch government continues to obscure essential parts of its Second World War responsibility. Contrary to many other European governments and parliaments, the Dutch government has not apologized to the Jewish community for the failure of its war-time predecessors in exile in London. Only in 2005 did the current Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende say publicly that Dutch authorities had collaborated with the Germans in the occupied Netherlands.[20] No previous Dutch government had ever gone so far in admitting part of the truth.

Jews as Instruments in Politics

The second symbolic role played by Jews in The Netherlands involves being an instrument of the authorities and others. Earlier we saw how Vis accused the KRO TV network of using the publicity around Anne Frank to jack up its ratings. That so small a group of people can be used as an instrument in important situations reveals the special and often distorted perception of Jews in the Dutch consciousness. This is particularly true for issues relating to the Holocaust.

One such post-war example was cited by contemporary historian Isaac Lipschits: “On 31 July 1946 J.C. Tenkink, secretary general of the Ministry of Justice, appealed to the NIK to assist ‘out of Christian neighborly love’ in reintegrating the previously jailed members of the NSB [i.e the Dutch Nazi party] into Dutch society.”[21] The intended goal of this request was clear. If the surviving Dutch Jews – who at that time were far from being reintegrated themselves – whose families had been murdered by the Germans agreed to this demand, how could other Dutchmen refuse? The NIK did not reply to the letter, which was obviously attempting to use the Jews for Dutch political purposes.

An Instrument to Fund Resistance Fighters  

In 1961 the Dutch Government asked the Jewish social organization JMW to estimate the immaterial damage caused to Jews and two other smaller groups that had been persecuted during the German occupation. This concerned issues such as wearing the yellow star, being held in camps, having to go into hiding and so on. The JMW figure came to 125 million guilders.[22] These funds were meant to be obtained from Germany for members of the groups which had been persecuted in The Netherlands due to their beliefs or race. In negotiations Germany agreed to pay 113 million guilders. They did not specify how the money should be divided.

The Dutch Government then decided to pay 45 percent of the money to Dutch resistance fighters for whom it had not requested any funding. The remainder was distributed to those for whom it was originally asked. The Jews had thus been used as a wedge to obtain money from Germany, part of which was given to others for whom the Dutch Government apparently considered it inconvenient to solicit funds. The Dutch government even asked JMW to agree to this division of the funds. JMW decided not to reply.[23]

A similar scenario played out at the end of the 20th Century. The Dutch government became concerned about international media attacks on Swiss banks for not having disclosed dormant Jewish accounts and for stalling efforts to clarify this matter for decades. It gradually became clear that the Dutch government had also withheld substantial Jewish funds after the war. A number of Government-appointed commissions were launched to investigate this and other related matters.

The Dutch government used this situation to have a commission investigate what had happened to the possessions of the Dutch in the former Dutch East Indies during the Second World War. This time the government was not appropriating money that could have gone to Jews, but it is clear that the East Indies issue would never have been put on the Dutch society’s agenda without the scandal of withholding Jewish money.[24]

Dialogue between Jews and Muslims has also been turned into an instrument of political manipulation. For the authorities this dialogue is sometimes a form of official spin to show that there is a potential for social peace in the country since the two groups meet. Sometimes in private conversations, Dutch Jews indicate that certain more radical Muslim groups take part in such dialogues as a deliberate ploy to convey to the Dutch authorities that they are worthy partners for them, since they are accepted by the Jews.

Israel has also at times become an instrument in Dutch politics. Before the municipal elections in 2005, Bert Cremers, then chairman of the Labor Party faction in the Rotterdam municipality, and Ocker van Munster, the local party chairman, put forward an anti-Israel platform. This even included the possibility of a boycott of Israeli products. The Rotterdam Labor Party, unable to solve the many real problems of the town, was aiming for a cheap way to attract Muslim voters by focusing on the Middle East, where it could make no contribution.[25]

A related issue is to what extent the anti-Israel campaign by various media and organizations is turning that country into a scapegoat for problems caused by others. This is an issue which merits further study. In November 2003, the European Union published one of its Eurobarometer polls. It asked respondents which countries they saw as a danger to world peace. Fifty-nine percent of the Europeans polled considered Israel as such. This was the highest percentage for any country, including states such as Iran that are major supporters of terrorism. With 74%, The Netherlands had the highest percentage of respondents who considered Israel a danger to world peace.[26]

Jewish Stereotypes

The Jews’ third symbolic role involves anti-Semitic stereotypes. Before the Second World War, social anti-Semitism in The Netherlands was widespread, but usually not violent. Ter Braak, who was mentioned earlier, was a protagonist in the battle against National Socialism. However, he also made anti-Semitic remarks in his correspondence with another Dutch intellectual, E. du Perron.[27]

There are also many examples of social anti-Semitism in contemporary Dutch society. Ewoud Sanders, a historian of the Dutch language who writes regularly in the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, published a column describing how he and his wife were visiting with friends when a distinguished uncle of the hostess joined them. This person said that the paper had greatly declined in quality after it fell into Jewish hands. Sanders said that it had been bought by British investors. The visitor reacted by saying that it is well known that all media are in Jewish hands. Sanders wrote that he was too embarrassed to ask: “How does an intelligent person like you think that such a matter is carried out in practice – a paper in Jewish hands? Does that mean that somewhere among the editors there is a Jew who has to approve all articles?”[28]


In a strange twist, one of the leading Dutch soccer clubs, Ajax Amsterdam, has a group of non-Jewish fans who call themselves “Jews.” Supporters of other clubs have for years chanted insults at them during games as well as outside the stadiums such as “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas.” For a long time the authorities did not react. This racist slogan has now permeated Dutch society.

One common anti-Jewish insult is “dirty rotten Jew.” A newer one, used mainly by Dutch Muslims is “cancer Jew.” The annual reports on anti-Semitism in The Netherlands by the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) cite many examples of verbal attacks on Jews, both by autochtonous Dutch and Muslims.[29]

For anti-Semites it makes no difference whether someone is a Jew or only perceived as such. A leading non-Jewish Dutch TV presenter Mies Bouwman said: “Strangely enough, as soon as I did something which people didn’t like, I was perceived as a Jewess. I immediately got anti-Semitic letters saying I had no right to live.”[30]

Christian Attitudes

In a number of Christian circles, anti-Semitism disappeared after the war. The founding of the State of Israel also led to a reassessment of Christianity’s relationship to Judaism among some Christians. Rabbi Tzvi Marx, director of the B. Folkertsma Institute for Talmudica, says that “Christian-Jewish relations now have several components. One is that a number of Christians study Judaism. A second is interfaith dialogue, and a third concerns Christian attitudes toward Israel. To some extent, they are intertwined.”[31]

On the other hand extreme Christian anti-Semitism has far from vanished. The ADL poll found that 18% in The Netherlands agreed with the statement that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus: this, in a country where more than 40% of the population is secular.[32]

Preachers of Hate

In March 2005 the Dutch Reformed preacher Kees Mos gave a sermon in his church in Wassenaar, which belongs to the major Dutch Protestant umbrella organization PKN. Mos said: “The Jew in us is a traitor according to Matthew.” He added: “The sin of the Jew is, in short, that he refuses to be a human being.” Mos went on: “We have depicted Hitler in recent decades as a monster, but monsters do not exist.” He also said: “We do not recognize the Jew. He is a silent killer.”

Had his community and the PKN thrown Mos out swiftly or had he apologized immediately, the case would have attracted only minor interest. The community, however, was split on the issue. Another preacher gave a sermon in the same church in 2006 which had some anti-Semitic elements.[33] Mos only apologized for his comments a year and half after his sermon. The PKN downplayed the entire case as much as it could.[34]

Age-old Christian anti-Jewish prejudices express themselves in many ways. On Good Friday 2008, former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt, a Catholic, was asked on the radio for his interpretation of what happened on that day in Jesus’ time. He blamed the Jews in various ways for the condemnation of Jesus by Pontius Pilate.[35] Pieter van der Horst, a leading Dutch scholar of early Christian and Jewish Studies commented that “the trend in van Agt’s remarks is to unburden the Romans for the execution of Jesus and to blame the Jews for it entirely. Among historians and Bible scholars this obsolete vision is seen as an expression of hatred of Jews.”[36]

The Jew as an Outsider

In Dutch society the Jew is often viewed as the typical Other. Over the centuries Jews have been seen as exotic. Currently this largely applies to rabbis and the few ultra-Orthodox who wear recognizable black garments. Today the term exotic tends to be applied to the many non-Western immigrants in colorful dress. When de Winter assessed the positive attitude to restoring synagogues, he also noted another reason for Dutch interest in this: “It has something mystically Jewish. It makes people think of Madonna and Kabbalah. It is very fashionable. One can find many booklets in bookshops on Kabbalah. It is exciting and has something exotic.”[37]

A poll conducted by the daily De Pers in February 2008 provides further proof that the Dutch Jews are perceived as outsiders. Only 53% of those polled would find a Jewish prime minister acceptable; 31% felt it would be unacceptable; and 14% had no opinion. Ninety-three percent thought a woman prime minister was acceptable; 78%, a homosexual; and 75%, a black. A Muslim prime minister was only considered acceptable by 27%.[38]

The number of respondents who found a Jew acceptable is low compared to other countries. In 2004, 20% of the respondents in a British survey said a Jewish prime minister would be “less acceptable than a non-Jewish one.”[39] In a Swedish survey in 2005 25% did not consider a Jewish prime minister acceptable.[40]

The Dutch poll was particularly interesting because there has only been one serious Jewish candidate for the premiership in this century: if the Labor Party had won the parliamentary elections in 2003, Job Cohen would have become prime minister.[41] The poll thus confirmed that even someone who has no substantial Jewish identity is viewed by a significant part of the population as an outsider. The ADL poll reveals other aspects of these prejudices, including the fact that 46% of the Dutch were of the opinion that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to The Netherlands.[42]

From some perspectives Jews are indeed outsiders. At Jewish festivities one usually finds security, which is rare elsewhere. Wim Kortenoeven, a non-Jewish official of the CIDI, tells that he attended the Bar Mitzvah of a rabbi’s son in The Hague. “The only reason I didn’t have to show proof of identity to the security guard was because I knew him. Such a festivity in The Netherlands cannot take place without security. This is true only for Jews. It typifies the tragedy of Dutch society.”[43]

The Jew as a Representative of Israel

Yet another symbolic role Jews fulfill is that they are viewed by a number of Dutchmen as responsible for Israel’s deeds. This sometimes leads to threats against them. The ADL poll found that 25% of those interviewed thought that violence against Dutch Jews was the result of anti-Jewish feelings. Forty-two percent thought that the source of the violence resulted from anti-Israel feelings.[44]

Many Muslims have criticized Dutch Jews in dialogue meetings for wrongs that, in their eyes, Israel has committed. They pass over the fact that most terrorist attacks in the world are committed by Muslims. However, there is a trend among Dutchmen to see Dutch Muslims as related to terrorism, especially since filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in November 2004 by the Muslim fanatic Mohammed Bouyeri.

A Sensor and Indicator of The Netherlands

Partly due to their symbolic and other roles, the Dutch Jews have also become a prism for a better understanding of The Netherlands. Events affecting a small group can be more easily analyzed than the complex Dutch society at large. Jews are also a sensor for a number of future developments in The Netherlands. This, though, is rarely grasped by Dutch society.

In January 2004 an article was published with examples of how the situation for Jews in Amsterdam had worsened in the last few years. The cantor of a synagogue said that he heard anti-Semitic insults at least once a week, whereas five years earlier this occurred perhaps once a year. Another young Jew said that he expected that sooner or later a Dutch Jew would be killed by a Muslim.[45] These were half-prophetic words. He was right as far as the identity of the murderer was concerned. The victim however, was a non-Jew, the aforementioned van Gogh.

After September 11, 2001, there was unrest in the Western quarter of Amsterdam. In November Moroccan youngsters threw stones at Jews leaving the small synagogue there. When a journalist checked with the police, its spokesman asked her not to devote much attention to the incident because the perpetrators already had such a difficult time. His sympathy was clearly not with the Jewish victims, but with the Moroccan criminals.[46]

Six years later a mentally disturbed Moroccan entered a police station in Amsterdam West and stabbed two policemen who had to be taken to hospital. One of them managed to kill the assailant.[47] Talkbacks in papers commented that as the police do not do their job in the streets, criminals now attack them in their offices.

Many young Muslims vent their hatred of Dutch society by using the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as an accessory. The Dutch Moroccan rapper Appa released a new single in 2007 entitled “I Shit on the Authorities.” His producer said: “We were filming in a square in Amsterdam and suddenly Appa’s acquaintances produced Hamas flags and weapons for no reason.” The same rapper verbally threatened right-wing politician Geert Wilders.[48]

An Example for Muslims

Immigration of large numbers of Muslims to The Netherlands over the past four decades has created 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, a negative impact on the teaching of the Holocaust in Dutch schools, and changed attitudes on the part of the authorities and third parties toward the needs of the Jewish community.[49]

During a major anti-Israel demonstration in April 2002 in Amsterdam, Israeli flags were burned by marching Muslims. Few Dutchmen if any would have thought then that in 2008, in a variety of Muslim countries, Dutch flags would be burned as a protest against the movie “Fitna” by Wilders.

Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Moroccan-born Dutch deputy minister, sees the Jews as role models for the future of Dutch Muslims. He said, painting far too rosy a 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 baggage 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.[50]

Yet Aboutaleb, an orthodox Muslim who prays five times a day, can hardly be satisfied to follow the example of Dutch Jewry. Most are largely assimilated. Less than five percent of Dutch Jews observe the main laws of Jewish Orthodoxy. This is far from an ideal model for the Dutch Muslim future that Aboutaleb aspires to when he talks about not abandoning his “cultural baggage.” Aboutaleb’s views may well be wishful thinking for other reasons. One is that the Jews immigrated to The Netherlands over hundreds of years and never reached the size of the Dutch Muslim communities which now make up close to a million. Yet the prejudices against this small group have not disappeared.

Differences between Jews and Muslims

There are other major differences between the two communities such as the fact that Judaism does not proselytize. Nor have Jewish communities ever been permeated with violent hatred toward The Netherlands as are some sectors of Muslim society. In addition, the desire for learning is far less widespread among Muslim immigrants than in the Jewish community. Houwink ten Cate says:

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 consider schooling important and think about their children’s professions. Often families make       collective decisions about this…. I have never heard anything about the focus on children’s learning among Moroccans.[51]

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 experiences that she and her colleagues have with visits to the museum by Moroccan children. “Afterwards, 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 that the persecution of the Jews was initiated by the Germans and not by the Dutch.”[52] Yet the expectation that at some time many Muslims will have to leave Europe is current in some Muslim circles.

Other lessons for the future can be drawn from the Dutch prime minister acceptability poll. Supposedly well-integrated Jews, those who resemble other Dutchmen so closely that they are often hardly recognizable as Jews, are not seen as authentic Dutch by many Dutchmen. If this is so, what can Muslims expect regarding their integration into Dutch society?

There is also a lesson to be drawn for the autochthonous Dutch. If after 400 years of Jewish presence in The Netherlands, so many Dutch have such views about this small community, what is the likelihood that The Netherlands, within a foreseeable future, will integrate their ten percent of non-Western immigrants and their progeny? These people, who arrived at most a few decades ago, are much more remote from Dutch society than the Jews have been for a long time. Other important factors which can impede this integration include the unprecedented incitement of Muslims by Arab satellite television. Furthermore, radicals in the Muslim community are likely to cause frequent friction in The Netherlands.


Some think that there is no future for the Jews in The Netherlands, although this is rarely said in public. In 2003 the psychologist and Auschwitz survivor Bloeme Evers-Emden wrote: “The [problems] probably will not come while I’m alive, but I strongly advise my children to leave The Netherlands.”[53] If one were to assume that gradually all Jews would leave the country, Dutch society would in fact continue to function without any significant problems. Positions held by Jews could be filled by others. This should not come as a surprise. In the Second World War the exclusion and disappearance of 140,000 from Dutch society within a relatively short period did not leave many gaps.

After the War returning Jews often had difficulty recovering their place in society. In previous centuries the Jews played important roles in Dutch society. The Portuguese Jews did so in Dutch trade in the 17th century. In the 19th century the textile and diamond industries would not have flourished without the Jews. A number of the largest Dutch companies today were founded entirely or partially by Jews. Jews also played an important role in the inception of the trade unions. Nothing similar exists today.

However, the symbolic role of the Jews in The Netherlands is enormous. It is doubtful whether The Netherlands can do without them. It cannot be without Jews in the imaginary spheres, whether to reflect about the past and the Holocaust in society, as stereotypes which have become part of the Dutch language, as instruments for various purposes, or as sensors for the future. These roles have by now become embedded in Dutch culture. The Jews’ symbolic role in The Netherlands is of great importance for the country.

*     *     *


[1] Hanna van Solinge, Marlene de Vries (ed), De Joden in Nederland Anno 2000  (Amsterdam: Aksant, 2001), 244. [Dutch]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.,113.

[4] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Leon De Winter, “Het Joodse aan mij is dat ik me met Israel identificeer,” Aleh, May-June 2007. [Dutch]

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

[6] In Israel he changed his name to Michman.

[7] J. Melkman, Geliefde Vijand (Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers, 1964), 10. [Dutch]

[8] Personal communication, Willy Lindwer.

[9] “Fortuyn ‘Grootste Nederlander,'” Telegraaf, 15 November 2004. [Dutch]

[10] Almée Kiene, “‘Grootste Nederlander’ Anne Frank moet nog wel even genaturaliseerd,” Volkskrant 5 October 2004. [Dutch]

[11]  “Anne Frank geen Nederlandse,” Parool, 4 October 2004. [Dutch]

[12] Ruben Vis, “Anne Frank en het katholieke gedachtengoed,” NIW, 8 October 2004. [Dutch]

[13] KRO, jaarverslag 2002. [Dutch]

[14] Elma Drayer, “heel erg hoor, van Anne’s kastanjeboom,” Trouw, 22 November 2007. [Dutch]

[15] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Leon De Winter.

[16] Frank van Vree, In de schaduw van Auschwitz, (Groningen: Historische Uitgeverij, 1995), 107. [Dutch]

[17] Ibid., 93.

[18] Mozes Heiman Gans, NIW, 19 December 1952, quoted in Martin Bossenbroek, De Meelstreep: Terugkeer en Opvang na de Tweede Wereldoorlog, (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2001), 342. [Dutch]

[19] ADL, “Attitudes Toward Jews and the Middle East in Six European Countries,” 17 July 2007.

[20] CIDI, Israel Nieuwsbrief, 30 April 2005. [Dutch]

[21] Isaac Lipschits, De Kleine Sjoa (Amsterdam: Mets&Schilt, 2001) 23. [Dutch]

[22] Isaac Lipschits Tsedaka, Een Halve Eeuw Joods Maatschappelijk Werk (Zutphen: Walburg, 1997) 334. [Dutch]

[23] Lipschits, De Kleine Sjoa, 121.

[24] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Jewish War Claims in The Netherlands: A Case Study.” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 12, 1-2, Fall 2000, 55-96.

[25] “PvdA irriteert met Palestina-platform,” Telegraaf, 16 August 2005. [Dutch]

[26] European Commission, “Iraq and Peace in the World,” Eurobarometer Survey, No. 151, November 2003.

[27] H.A. Gomperts, Een kern van Waarheid (Amsterdam: G.A. van Oorschot, 2000) 229. [Dutch]

[28] Ewoud Sanders, “Sprakeloos”, NRC Handelsblad, 3 January 2007. [Dutch]


[30] Heleen Spanjaard, “Mies,” Margriet, 27, 1-8 July 2005. [Dutch]

[31] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Rabbi Tzvi C. Marx, “Christian-Jewish Relations in The Netherlands,” Changing Jewish Communities, 22, 15 July 2007.

[32] ADL, “Attitudes.”

[33] Kim van Keken, “Dominee blijft, de gemeente wijkt,” Volkskrant, 22 May 2006. [Dutch]

[34] “Doofpotaffaire ds. Mos”, Nederlands Dagblad, 18 March 2008. [Dutch]

[35] Dries van Agt in the radio program “Met het oog op Morgen,” 20 March 2008. [Dutch]

[36] Pieter van der Horst, personal communication.

[37] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Leon De Winter.

[38] Marcia Nieuwenhuis, Sanne Rooseboom, “Nederland is klaar voor  een vrouw,” De Pers, 5 February 2008. [Dutch]

[39] Stephen Bates, “One in Seven Britons Say Holocaust Is Exaggerated,” The Guardian, 23 January 2004.

[40] Henrik Bachner and Jonas Ring, Antisemitiska attityder och föreställningar i Sverige (Stockholm: Forum för levande historia, 2005). [Swedish]

[41] “Kandidaat-premier Cohen,” Volkskrant, 20 January 2003. [Dutch]

[42] ADL, “Attitudes.”

[43] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Wim Kortenoeven, “CIDI: De relaties tussen Israel en Europa, alsmede een kwetsbare gemeenschap beschermen,” Aleh, December 2007. [Dutch]

[44] ADL, “Attitudes.”

[45] Paul Andersson Toussaint, “Nieuw taboe: ‘jodenvriendje zijn,'” De Groene Amsterdammer, 31 January 2004 [Dutch].

[46] ‘Belaagde sjoelgangers laken lakse politie,’ Trouw, 20 November 2001. [Dutch]

[47] ANP, Agente schiet aanvaller in politiebureau dood, Parool 15 October 2007. [Dutch]

[48] Myrthe Hilkens, “schijt aan de overheid,” De Pers, 10 August 2007. [Dutch]

[49] For more details, see: Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Muslim-Jewish Interaction in The Netherlands,” Changing Jewish Communities, 26, 15 November 2007.

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

[51] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Johannes Houwink ten Cate.

[52] Personal communication, Liesbeth van der  Horst.

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

*     *     *

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 his eleven books are Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003); American Jewry’s Challenge: Conversations Confronting the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); and Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? (JCPA and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005).